“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” St. John 1:18
God speaks to His people. This is where all Biblical religion begins, with a God who knows us and who addresses us, who wishes us to know Him and the truth about Him. He has spoken, our Epistle lesson says, “at sundry times and in divers manners.”
All things began with His speaking, “let there be,” and it was—by the Word, Saint John assures us, “everything was made that was made.” God speaks through the creation itself—in vistas that take our breaths away, in the ordered progression of sun and moon, in the complex laws of nature. The heavens tell His glory, the Psalmist assures us, and all things return the cry, “bless the Lord, praise Him, and magnify Him for ever.”
God speaks in the conscience, our common faculty for knowing right and wrong, that “light that enlightens every man that comes into the world.” He speaks through our deepest longings and highest aspirations, our yearning to know that which is noblest and best, and to be united with it. He speaks in our desire to love others, in our search for deep stillness, in our persistent sense of justice.
And He has spoken in history. Our ancestors in faith were those who “called upon the Name of the Lord,” but they did so only after He had spoken to them first. He spoke to Noah, and told him to gather every creature in a safe place. He spoke to Abraham and told him to strike out for a new homeland, trusting that He would give him a family along the way. He spoke to Moses to reveal the law, to Deborah and Gideon to free His people from their oppressors. He taught David to sing His praises and told Solomon to build a house for His glory, and commanded Nehemiah to make a wall strong enough to hold them together in peace.
And of course, He spoke through the prophets. A prophet is one who utters the word that God has given, one who stands before the people and announces “thus saith the Lord.” Sometimes He spoke words of rebuke, reminding them of their sacred law, urging them to repent while time remained. Sometimes He spoke words of encouragement, to remind them that their faithfulness had not been ignored, to exhort them to wait patiently for deliverance yet to come. Sometimes He spoke to awaken hope, describing an ingathering and restoration of His scattered children, a glorious new city, a deeper fellowship with Him, hearts made new by the work of His Spirit.
“At sundry times and in divers manners” He had spoken before. But His people would not listen. They ignored His warnings, and rejected His laws. They forgot His promises and wearied of waiting. They turned away from the light and loved darkness, “for their deeds were evil.” There had been spokesman after spokesman, hero upon hero, each of them with his own fatal flaw. There would be revival in one generation, and then steady decline again, one step forward and two back. Again, God would speak, never wanting the connection to break, remaining consistent, steadfast.
For all His speaking, God seemed far away. His words were plain enough, but they never quite seemed to take root in the hearts of His people. Maybe they just didn’t know the law, or maybe it just seemed too hard for their faltering resolve and conflicting desires. Maybe, the temptations around them were just too attractive, or those raised up to lead them a little less effective than they should have been. This hard-heartedness, this failure to hear and obey, it penetrated deeply into human nature. It was not a problem of the ears only, or even of the mind. The desires, the will, they too were twisted away from the One who addressed them.
“God hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” He who had spoken so faithfully, for so long, sent the Word to be among us as one of us. That perfect pattern by which He made all things, the message of the prophets, the One who had called them to victory over their enemies, He left the realms of glory to take on our common flesh. He was born as we are born, and lived amid the beauty and the folly, the glory and the pain of this world.
In time, great pearls of wisdom would drop from His lips and He would do mighty works that showed God’s power and His love for all people. He would be an embodiment of the commandments, a sign of the true potential of the human will. He would draw us to Himself by His preaching and His grace-filled actions, making us one with Himself, members of His body, sharers in His life. “The only begotten Son, which was in the bosom of the Father, hath declared Him.” He reveals what He alone can reveal, and gives to us the capacity to know what without Him we could not know, and to do what apart from Him we could never do.
And yet, when He first came, He said nothing. The Word made flesh was silent as He slept in the hay, and when they came to praise Him they found a king with no throne, wrapped in rags. The shepherds heard no sermon. No sacraments were instituted for the benefit of the wise men. There were no miracles in the cradle.
There is a great mystery here, and we may do best to leave it at that. But perhaps we can say this much. To hear and respond to the God who speaks to us is not in the first instance a matter of ideas and pledges and rules. Those all have their place and they are charged with the authority of the One who gives them to us.
But this miracle of self-giving, God sending His Son among us to hunger, suffer, yes to die, does it not reveal something even more profound about God’s true purpose? This setting aside of His majesty, this placing of Himself into our hands, knowing full well what we will do with Him, does this not testify to a love far deeper than we will ever be able to express?
While He remains silent, the Word speaks in our hearts, and He draws Himself to us, as we fall before Him. He who was in the bosom of the Father reveals what lies in the Father’s heart, and it is this never-failing love for all He has made. It’s our hearts that must be changed first.
The ideas, the pledges, the deeds, they will come when once we have truly loved Him. He comes in love to awaken love in us. He speaks but in a baby’s cry, but when we see Him in faith, we understand all things. Let us hear Him. Let us adore Him. Let us love Him.