Friends of Padre Steve’s World
I often talk about my struggles with doubt and faith, but in regard to faith, the season of Advent has become even more important to me than it ever was before. In fact, amid all the yearly histrionics and propaganda of the Christian Right and their Fox News Channel cheerleaders who scream about “the war on Christmas” I find Advent to be a powerful antidote.
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 to baseball. Advent 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. Christ did not come to found a government or even for that matter a religion. He did not come to exemplify “Christian” virtues or to condemn people that religious people condemned as sinners. He came simply to save and redeem the world and people like us from themselves.
The meaning of the incarnation, and the hope of the season of Advent is that God loves people. Yes, even the people that the supposed Christian culture warriors 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 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. These early Christians simply lived 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 to be neutralized had to be coopted by Constantine. It was only when the leaders of the church 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 our culturally conditioned need for physical, economic and political power over others than it is of Jesus.
All I know is that the simplicity of the message that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” is more powerful than any political-religious alliance.
The time of waiting in expectation during advent also helps us to focus on Jesus’ words to “Love God with all your heart and love our neighbors as ourselves.” It also calls to mid the words of the Old Testament 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.”
Advent stands in stark contrast to the politically charged consumerism of the War on Christmas. I think that the message that God loves the real world is worth repeating in such an environment. In fact I think that because the message of God’s great love for those deemed “repulsive” by so many supposedly “conservative Christians” is so amazing that it must be proclaimed. As distasteful as it is to the “for profit prophets” of our time, it is not only worth repeating, but actually believing and being acting upon.
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.