December 8, 2014
Pastor Aaron A. Koch
Martin Luther High School
✠ In the name of Jesus ✠
*Did you ever notice that today’s reading from Exodus sounds a little like the Christmas account from Luke 2? There was a shepherd abiding in the field at Mt. Horeb, keeping watch over the flock of his father-in-law Jethro by night. And behold, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. When shepherd Moses saw it he wondered at the sight; and as he drew near to look, the voice of the Lord came, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And shepherd Moses trembled and hid his face, for the glory of the Lord shone around him, and he was terrified. And the Angel of the Lord said to Him, “Fear not, for I have surely seen the ill-treatment of My people that are in Egypt and heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt, and this will be a sign unto you: this bush that burns with fire and yet is not consumed.”
If this account and the account of Christmas seem to have some parallels, they should, for it is the same Lord Jesus who is present in both. This Angel of the Lord is no ordinary angel. In fact, this was not really an angel at all in the usual sense of that word. Usually when we hear the word “angel,” we’re thinking of those created, heavenly beings spoken of in the Scriptures who serve God and do His will. But since the word “angel” also means “messenger” or “one who speaks the words of God,” it can also refer to men, as in Revelation, where the term “angel” is used to refer to the pastors of the churches. And here, the term “angel” is used to refer to the Son of God Himself, the ultimate messenger and spokesman of the Father. For Moses consistently refers to this “Angel” as God. This is the Angel of the Lord, the second person of the Holy Trinity. This is Jesus Christ before He was conceived and born into this world, sent by the Father to reveal His Word.
St. John expresses a very similar thought in His Gospel when He refers to Christ as “the Word,” the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. As the uncreated, eternal, divine Angel of the Lord, Jesus is both the messenger and the message. He is God the Father’s Final Word to us, a Word of love and of life.
So what we have here in this account, then, is the pre-incarnate Jesus speaking to Moses. Notice how the Son of God here descends to earth as He did at Christmas. And He does so in a very concrete and physical way. He appears in a flame of fire and within the branches of a bush. Didn’t our Lord Jesus call Himself the Light of the world? Wasn’t He laid in the wood of a manger? In this bush the eternal and the temporal were joined together in order that the Lord might come into contact with man, just as He did in a complete and permanent way at Bethlehem. The Lord came down to our level; He took on an earthly form that Moses and, later, we could grasp and receive. By taking on our flesh, the Creator entered into creation in a such a way that sinful people could approach Him without fear, without being destroyed. The burning bush, then, is a prophetic event. It foretells the time when Christ would descend to this world again and permanently take on our human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
And this event in Exodus also foreshadows the reason why our Lord would be born at Christmas. For the Lord Jesus announces to Moses from the bush that He has come to save His people, to rescue them from their enemies, the Egyptians. In the same way, Christ came down at Christmas to rescue all of mankind. Joseph and Mary were told, “You shall call His name ‘Jesus,’ for He will save His people from their sins.” Our Lord descended to deliver us from our enemies who had enslaved us. He came to release us from the power of our taskmaster, the devil, and to free us from the harsh bondage of sin and death. By His holy incarnation, Christ became the New Moses, who leads us out of the kingdom of darkness, through the baptismal waters of the Red Sea, and into the light of the Promised Land of the new creation. The One who appeared in a flame of fire said, “He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but (shall) have the light of life.”
When Moses looked at the bush, he saw that it was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed or burnt up. That tells us two things: First of all, it teaches us that the union between God and man that took place in the conception and birth of Christ is eternal and everlasting. Jesus is forever both fully divine and fully human. Even as the bush never burned up, so the union between God and man in Christ will never end. He is true man even now as He sits at the right hand of the Father, and He always will be true man, our human brother.
Second of all, the fact that the bush was not consumed teaches us that Christ came into our flesh not first of all to bring judgment to mankind but salvation and redemption. This was not a fire that destroyed. It was a fire that revealed and proclaimed the words of deliverance and life. Jesus said, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” It is written in the Scriptures that no sinner can see the holy God and live. But in the burning bush, and in the holy Child of Mary, sinful man can and does see God, veiled in earthly, human clothing. And trusting in this God in the flesh, man lives forever. By taking on our human nature, Jesus did not consume and annihilate us. Rather, He shared in our life so that we may share in His life. He became like us so that we may become like Him.
Finally, the Lord Jesus revealed His name to Moses from the bush. He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Our Savior is the great I AM, the One who was, and who is, and who is to come, the One who said, “I AM the Good Shepherd.” “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” “I AM the Vine; you are the branches.” He who revealed Himself to Moses in the branches of a bush has now taken on your flesh and blood in order that you might become His branches, that you might be joined to Him and draw your life from Him. Jesus Christ is that holy vine spoken of in the Psalms that took root in Bethlehem and has now spread throughout the earth.
Truly, then, the burning bush is a great sign and living prophecy of our Lord’s coming at Christmas. As you prepare to celebrate this nativity of our Lord, may He who is the Light of the world cause the flame of holy faith to burn brightly in your hearts.
✠ In the name of the Jesus ✠
(*Note: I adapted this first paragraph from the work of another pastor, but no longer remember who that was!)