Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And He said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Did you ever notice how today’s reading from Exodus sounds a little like the Christmas account from Luke 2? For example, I could read like this: There was in the same country as Horeb a shepherd abiding in the field, keeping watch over the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, by night. The name of this shepherd was Moses. And behold, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. When the shepherd Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight, and as he drew near to look, the voice of the Lord came, saying, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.” And the shepherd Moses trembled and hid his face, for the glory of the Lord made him greatly afraid. 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 have 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 a little bit similar to you, they should, because it is the same Lord Jesus who is present in both. Remember that this Angel of the Lord is no ordinary angel. In fact, according to the usual definition of the word, this wasn’t really an angel at all. Ordinarily, when we use 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 the Book of Revelation, when the term angel was used to refer to the pastors of the seven churches. And here, the term angel is used to refer to the Son of God Himself, the one who is the ultimate messenger and spokesman of the Father. 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.
John expresses a very similar thought in the opening verses of his Gospel when he refers to Christ as 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, is the preincarnate 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 as a flame of fire within the branches of a bush. Didn’t Jesus call Himself the Light of the world? When laid in the wood of a manger, the Lord came down to our level. Just as He did in the bush, when the eternal and the temporal were joined together, He appeared in a complete and eternally significant way at Bethlehem in order that He might come into contact with man. He took on an earthly form that Moses, and later, we could grasp and receive. In the incarnation, 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 Virgin Mary.
This event in Exodus also foreshadows the reason for our Lord’s birth at Christmas. 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 the devil, and to free us from the oppressive 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, whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).
When Moses looked at the bush, he saw that it was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed or burnt up. This tells us two things. First, 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. Just 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, the fact that the bush was not consumed teaches us that Christ came into our flesh not to bring judgment to mankind but to bring 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 in John 3:17, God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. It’s written in the Scriptures that no sinner can see the holy God and live. But in the burning bush, and especially 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 is made holy and lives forever. By taking on our human nature, Jesus didn’t consume and annihilate us. Rather, He permeated and filled our lives so that we may share in His life. He became like us so that we may become like Him.
The Lord Jesus revealed His name to Moses from the bush. He said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” Our Savior is the great I am, the one who is, and who was, and who is to come. Jesus is the revelation of the divine name, for He teaches us, “I am the Good Shepherd.” “I am the light of the world.” “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. Apart from Jesus, the branches wither and die and are burned in judgment. But abiding in Jesus, the branches thrive and share in the fire of His divine life. Jesus Christ is indeed a holy vine that took root in Bethlehem and that has now spread throughout the earth.
Truly then, the burning bush is a great sign of our Lord’s coming at Christmas, a living prophecy of His incarnation. As you prepare to celebrate this nativity of our Lord, God grant that He who is that flame of fire may light your hearts with penitent faith and holy love.