O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
(From O Come O Come Emmanuel)
Today is the fist Sunday of what we in the liturgical Christian world know as the season of Advent.
Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year, in a sense the opening day of a new season of faith, as much as the Opening Day is in Baseball. It is a season of new beginnings, of hope looking forward and looking back. It is a season of intense realism. It is a season where the people of God look forward to their deliverance even as they remember the time when God entered into humanity. It was not simply entering the human condition as a divine and powerful being inflicting his will upon people but deciding to become subject to the same conditions know by humanity. As Paul the Apostle, wrote about him: “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5b-8)
In the incarnation Jesus Christ shows his love and solidarity with people, humanity, the creation, reality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”
That simple fact is why Christ came.
He didn’t come to found a government. He did not come to exemplify “Christian” virtues or to condemn people that religious people condemned as sinners.
The meaning of the incarnation, and the hope of the season of Advent is that God loves people, even those that some that presume to be his spokesmen and women despise.
In the next few week there will be much written and said about Jesus. Much of it will not actually deal with Jesus or the people that he came to save but instead about the worldly power and influence of those who seek the profits of being “prophets.” Some of them will talk fervently about the “war on Christmas” as if somehow God and Christ are so small that they need government sponsored displays in the public square in order to be real, relevant or or for that matter important. What a small God they must have.
Somehow the message of Advent, the coming of Jesus is contradictory to the message of the for profit prophets. Certainly the early Christians had no government backing of any kind. They simply lived the life and showed God’s love to their neighbors, often at the cost of their lives and paradoxically the message was not crushed, but spread and overcame an empire. It was only when they became co-executors of government power that the message of reconciliation became a bludgeon to be used against those who did not agree with the theology of the clerics beholden to the Empire.
The Christ of the Season of Advent, the one who came and who promises to come again is not captive to the capricious message of the for profit prophets and their political and media allies. I would dare say that God is much bigger than them or those that they believe will somehow end the Christian faith as we know it. But then maybe the Christian faith “as we know it” is more a reflection of us and our need for temporal physical power over others than it is of Jesus.
All I know is that the simplicity of the message that “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” is more powerful than any political-religious alliance. Likewise the two things that Jesus said to do in order to “inherit the Kingdom of God” were to “Love God with all your heart and love our neighbors as ourselves,” and similarly the words of the old Testament minor prophet Micah, who asked “what does the Lord require of thee? To love show justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” But then there is not much money or political power in that is there?
But despite the inconvenience of a direct temporal profit or power which is so central to most churches, I do think that the message that God loves the real world is worth repeating. In fact I think that because the message of God’s great love for those deemed “repulsive” is so distasteful to the “for profit prophets” of our time that it is not only worth repeating, but actually believing.
It is a good reason for me to during this season of Advent to look forward to our celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation, the coming of the God who “emptied himself” and took “the form of a slave” in order to save his people.