It's a Small Thing
From Lisa Simpson accidently creating tiny Lutherans ("Treehouse of Horrors, VII, 10-27-96), to "A Bug's Life," to Gulliver and his travels, smallness is captivating. But that's only once things have been put into perspective. You don't know how tiny the Lilliputians are till seen in comparison to normal size Gulliver. Likewise you don't know how huge the Brobdingnagians are till Gulliver who is our size puts them into perspective. We only know smallness when it's put into perspective. Only then can we say, "It's a small thing," and even then we might not know what we're saying.
Your God is Too Small is a book written by Anglican clergyman J.B. Phillips in 1952, and surely the title is correct. We do make our God too small. "For nothing is impossible with God," says the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. With God virgin's can conceive, a universe can be created in six days, all sins paid for on one day, Bread can be Body and Wine can be Blood. With God the Sun can stand still and even go backward. With God it is possible for crimson sins to be white as snow, for black sheep to become white, for the dead to live, the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the weak be strong. Nothing is impossible with God? No nothing.
There is a nuance in the Greek that the NIV, ESV, NASB, and even the KJV translations don't pick up. The American Standard gets it right translating: "For no word from God shall be void of power." But even that doesn't get it fully. It's not no word from God shall be void of power. It's not the ordinary Greek word for "word." It's rhema which can mean "word" but is better translated "speech," "matter," or "thing." Also missing from translation is the "all" concept. Literally its, "Shall not be powerless with God all speech, matter, thing." By using the Greek word rhema rather than logos here, God ties His limitless power to do things, to accomplish matters to the fact that He speaks.
I think this in itself convicts of having a too small God. How come? Aren't you amazed by all this voice activated technology? Aren't you awed by the fact that you can tell your car to play a certain song, call a certain person, or map a route to a certain place and it obeys you? Why aren't we likewise awed, overawed, overwhelmed by the Word of God's power to activate? God spoke and out of nothing came all this. God spoke and holy men of God were moved to inscripturate His Word. God spoke and the Second Person of the Godhead was incarnated in the womb of a virgin. God speaks and gives His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine.
Don't you see how absolutely convicted, condemned, and sentenced we all are? I will sit in awe of what Steve Jobs created and don't give a second thought to the One who created Steve Jobs. I will play around with technology for hours delighted by its intricacies, but my mind wanders after mere minutes in God's Word. I will study; I will practice; I will focus on technology till I know it and can use it. Not only the fact that I can't say that about God's Word convicts me, but the fact that I'm not moved to even try. My God is too small. He just could not have left me all that He wills for me to know about Him in a Book.
It's the same with the miracles of Incarnation and Communion. If I really believed that no rhema was impossible with God, how differently I'd treat the Virgin's womb, the manger, Mary's lap, Mary's Babe, Christmas morning and this season of Advent. If the rhema of God really was able to put all the fullness of the Godhead in Christ, as Colossians says, then the proverb is absolutely true: know Jesus, know God; no Jesus, no God. I'd be studying the Baby Jesus like first time parents study their newborn. Every finger, toe, dimple, and hair would be an absolute miracle. Here in this Baby is the invisible God visible for me.
And if God's speech could really cause Bread to be the same Body that was given on the cross and Wine to be the same Blood that was shed there, how I would thrill, rejoice, and give thanks for Holy Communion. I'm amazed when voice activated technology answers me in a human voice, but I'm nonchalant, blase, un-amazed when God answers my cry for fellowship and forgiveness, my cry of decaying and dying with His Body in Bread and His Blood in Wine, answering my cries with Words made visible.
We really don't see that we've made our God too small until something pops it into perspective. At the beginning of the New Deal, there were some who wanted to bring the crisis all down on big banking. It happened that a circus was in town during government hearings. Part of the circus was Lya Graf. At 27 inches tall she was reputed to be the smallest woman in the world. She was out and about and a reporter asked if she would like to meet the venerable J. P. Morgan. When introduced, being the gentleman that he was, he stood to shake her hand. When he sat back down, someone plopped little Lya on Morgan's lap, and a picture was snapped. That picture sealed the argument. Ordinary people we're nothing but small fry in the hands of big banking.
We are J. P. Morgan in the picture. God is Lya Graf. Rather than Him having the whole world in His hands we have Him in ours. He's too small to help, to act, to do. His Word is no more powerful than ours. His speech doesn't move things, matter, time, or space. No it moves as much as we think possible and that's precious little. You know how at this time of year it's a big horror when a kid, elf, or an adult even doesn't believe in Santa's power? O that we would have such shock when we're confronted with the fact that we have made our God too small.
Of course, at this time of year, it's also true that our God is not small enough. Soar into the heavens; go out of our solar system, galaxy, to infinity and beyond. Go to the very throne room of God. Go from God most high to Man, to Boy, to Infant, and know that you are still not small enough. Go smaller still to fetus, to blastocyst, to zygote. Then go to the Sawyer Brown song "The Walk," and lines that go, "'Don't worry boy it will be all right'/ Cause I took this walk you're walking now/ Boy, I've been in your shoes." There's no place that you have been that God in the Person of Jesus hasn't been before. There's no place, situation, ordeal you will face that your God hasn't been there first.
Those temptations to misbelief and unbelief that you know so well; Jesus descended from heaven to go through for you. Where you and I regularly distain the Word of God in writing, in Person, in Bread and Wine, Jesus never once doubted that with God all things were possible. Jesus has been through all the things in your life and in your head and heart too. Others can share what is going on in your life, but the heart only knows its own bitterness and the head its own terrors.except for the God who became small enough to enter our thoughts, feelings, fears, worries, anxieties, and despairs. He not only knows yours; He endured yours, and did so without sinning even once.
God took on flesh and blood in the Virgin's Womb to walk the walk we're waking now, to be in our shoes. But our shoes were caked with the mud of lust, pride, greed, unbelief, worry, lies and more. Someone was going to answer for all the filth we tracked into God's house. And God followed the tracks right to Jesus. There He stood in our shoes. Not saying it wasn't His mud; not rightly stating He didn't do it, but accepting God's righteous judgment and punishment, Jesus paid all that was required to satisfy the holy wrath of God.
Your God is not small enough if you have Him in the Person of Jesus as above the pain and punishment. No, God the Son made Himself so small as to be easily manhandled. It would be impossible for God the Son to suffer the hunger, the thirst, the pain, the death our muddy shoes rightly deserve, if He didn't allow it to happen. Without His willing acceptance of the suffering we deserve, birds would have bought Him bread and meat as they did Elijah; the water would have come out of rock as it did for Moses. It would be impossible for nails to puncture the flesh of God as it is for them to puncture the flesh of Superman. It would absolutely be impossible to take life from God if God Himself did not give it.
Your God is not small enough. You have got to hear Him in every syllable of every Word He speaks to you. He's small enough to be at work in every syllable of Absolution sending your sins away. He's small enough to be at work in every molecule of baptismal water drowning the old sinful adam and bringing to life the new man. Your God is so small that all of Him can fit in the Bread and Wine on that altar and be given to you to eat and drink for forgiveness, for life, for salvation.
But you know things that work at the cellular or molecular level often scare us. Cancer works at the cellular level and radiation at the molecular level. At this small of a level one little change here or there can produce radical changes. Things that work at this small of a level are very powerful and not well understood by men. Our God with whom nothing is impossible for His speech to do, work, or give is big enough to use small things in beneficial ways. So with Mary we can answer, "We are Thy servants Lord. Let it be to us as you have" and here again we have the word rhema. "Let it be to us according to the rhema of Thee." Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday in Advent (20111218); Luke 1: 26-38