Posts

Advent Week 3: The Hope of “God with Us”

Flames from the candles cause light to flash and dance on the faces of my family sitting around the table.  I listen to half a sentence my father reads but then my imagination whisks me off to a rocky hillside in Bethlehem.  The light of angels’ flash and dance on the weathered faces of the shepherds showing shock and disbelief.  They shuffle down the hill towards the dark buildings in the valley.  I look up and see my mother shaking her head at me as my hands mess with the wax of the candle.  Even as a distracted and fidgety child, celebrating advent was a time for slowing down and joining creation in mindful waiting.  

Matthew begins his story of the Messiah highlighting some interesting people in the genealogy of Jesus.  Judah sold his brother Joseph into slavery.  Tamar pretended to be a prostitute. Rahab was a prostitute.  David killed a man for his wife.   It is through this bloodline that a baby is born to a girl betrothed to a carpenter.  Uneducated and unkempt men crowd in the small space to see this baby.  Polytheist Persian Astrologists discover a new celestial object that guides them to this young Judean family.  The paranoid King Herod kills his own sons and even attempts to murder other children as he scrambles to secure his power and control.  Bethlehem was a city full of Jews who desired to be independent of the Roman Empire.  This is a story full of the lowly of society.  It is full of desperate people in dark and unjust situations who are longing for change.  

Then a baby enters this world.  A baby named Immanuel.  God with us.

However, we tend to clean up this story of “God with us”  when we skip over the sexual sins, murder, and betrayal found in Jesus’ family history, instead diving into the story of a young innocent girl; when we clean up the surroundings, concluding that the excruciating birth by a virgin teenage girl produces a baby who doesn’t cry; when Mary isn’t a sleep deprived new mother who is learning how to nurse her baby for the first time; when the shepherds aren’t men accustomed to being on the outskirts of society; when a narcissistic and paranoid leader is never someone we would follow; when we brush over the fact that God uses astrology to guide the Magi to the Christ child.

We clean it up, and then hurry to invite God with us.  Immanuel, God with us, but only when we polish up our story.  

But maybe it’s God with us in the process.  Maybe God with us isn’t the immediate gratification that comes after presenting a refined outside.  Jesus comes from a line of murderers, adulterers, unloved and unlikely people.  He is born into an environment that lacks wealth and is among a people who are subject to a foreign empire.  He is surrounded by those who would never surround a King.  He begins his life on earth as a human; an undeveloped, helpless baby who relies on the guidance and assistance from a teenage mother and carpenter father.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:12-13

It is in this process that Immanuel invites us into hope for the restoration of a messy world, reconciliation for broken people, redemption for sinners, and the righting of an unjust system.  Immanuel brings us a hope that calls us to action–action that brings the world back to how it was originally intended to be. Hope for our personal lives, for our immediate community and hope for a better world, a new world.

Faith in this “God with us” motivates us to work towards what we hope for and through love we introduce this hope to our world.  When the darkness in the world is all we can see, let us remind ourselves of this hope and that light has entered and will come back fully into this world.  Let us love like Jesus loved.  Let us be Immanuel to others.  In this season of reflection and slowing down to remember the story, let us join in creation’s hope for the here and the now and the not yet.

Nilah MacLean, New City Stories Contributor 

Advent Fulfilled: The Incarnation

“…that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…so that our joy may be complete” 1 John 1:2,4 (CSB)

This week of Advent celebrates the Incarnation of Christ. Nearly everyone recognizes the incarnation as the Christmas narrative: Jesus born of Mary, who was a virgin, in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem. The details of this historical event are found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke as well as recounted in famous Christmas Carols and the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, so I will not relate them here. This storyline has become so familiar during this season of the year, that people hear it often with little more than a sense of comfort.

Instead, I wish to point our eyes and hearts to a third narrative of Jesus’ birth. This passage recounts none of the details, but conveys the profound meaning of the Incarnation.

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life —  that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us —  what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:1-4 (CSB)

Let us unpack this passage a little. Advent calls us to reflect with a renewed interest in the miracle of Christmas; the miracle of the gospel. Advent softens our heart and draws us into a richer relationship with God, if we let it. So, there are some deep truths here and I ask that you sit with each one of them just a moment rather than breezing through them. Take time to meditate on the implication of each revelation.

Jesus (referred to here as “the word of life”) preexisted all of creation because he “was from the beginning.”
Jesus was present “with the Father” in relationship with Him from eternity.
Jesus did not come to life; He IS life. He is “the eternal life” revealed to us.
Jesus came to us here within His creation as a man who could be “touched with … hands”, “seen with … eyes”, and “heard” as a human being.
The entire purpose in the incarnation and in John’s testimony about Jesus’ birth is for our “joy [to] be complete.”
Jesus invites us into “fellowship … with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

There is simply too much here and too few words available to flesh out all that these four short verses offer. I trust that if you took the time to reflect on each of the assertions I drew out of the passage, then the Holy Spirit has spoken something special to you. For me, I am awestruck as I contemplate God stooping down to my broken existence by coming in the flesh in order to for me to be in relationship with Him (Romans 8:3). Who am I to receive such an invitation? What have I done to deserve this? No one. Nothing. And yet…

I have not, nor can I, make my way to God. Every other religion tells me I have to find a way to reach Him. Every other religion has special people who tell me what to do and how to behave to get to God. The Christmas story, the Incarnation of Christ, destroys that whole paradigm of earning eternal life. God came to me … to you … to us … as a vulnerable baby (1 Peter 1:1). He did everything required for me to be in fellowship with God here and now and evermore. He is not only in the Christmas narrative, but in me – incarnate.

By Greg Napier, New City Stories Contributor