O come, O come, great Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times once gave the law in cloud of majesty and awe. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
God gave the law. It is a gift from God. Indeed, the law is a good gift from God because we need the law. The law provides boundaries, and we human beings need boundaries. Without boundaries we gravitate toward doing what is right in our own eyes.
The law gives purpose. God has created and redeemed us for a reason. We are chosen for God’s divine purposes in this world. Without purpose we wander aimlessly in life through our self-imposed wilderness, pursuing the trite and the trivial. We seek to have our own meaning apart from the one who made and called us.
The law forms our identity as God’s people. “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1; NRSV). The law makes it possible for us to reflect the image of God in this world. Without the law, we lose our identity as divine icons. Without identity, we are no longer who we are created to be– God imagers. Yes, indeed… we need the law.
The law leads us to a divinely desired destination. The law is not the end of the journey, but what we need to reach the appointed harbor. The problem is that we are always tempted to make the law the end in and of itself. We forget that God made the law for us. We were not made for the law. But when the law is the end, that truth gets reversed. We end up serving the law. When that happens, our obedience to the law has the same results as our disobedience. Boundaries are no longer boundaries; they become walls. Our divinely ordained purpose is discarded in favor of finding our own meaning in ourselves and not in God. Our identity as God’s people is diminished and we become less than we are.
The law is not opposed to grace. Law and grace are not antonyms. Indeed, the giving of the law is an act of God’s grace; but the purpose of the law is to lead us to a fuller a more complete kind of grace.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known (John 1:14, 16-18).
In thunder and might, God graciously gave the law, and that law has taken us on the long journey to the fullness of grace given to us in Jesus Christ. The might of God is revealed on the top of a mountain in the desert and in the silence of a small village in a remote land under the thumb of the Roman Empire.
In the cries of a newborn child in a manger, the wisdom of the law can be heard.