Jesus’ life in this world began in a small, one-room peasant house that would have been divided between living quarters and space for the animals. It was most likely damp and dirty, not the kind of warm, cozy place often pictured in our manger scenes.
Many of us know Jesus in his redeeming role as “Son of God,” but the title he used of himself was “Son of Man,” a phrase employed most often in the Hebrew Bible meaning simply, “the human one.” Jesus was a teacher of wisdom, a sage, a healer and prophet, who challenged the status quo, turning conventional wisdom on its head. We meet Jesus among “the least.” Of course, “the least” are only “the least” from the point of view of a world gone awry, a world that elevates wealth and status over humility and compassion, a world that rewards the winners and the successful. Jesus turned this sort of world upside down.
Mary’s Song of Praise (the Magnificat) anticipates the scattering and deposing of the proud and powerful, and the uplifting and strengthening of the weak and humble. The rich are stripped of their wealth and the hungry are filled with good things (Luke 1:51-53). A change of fortunes is anticipated in the Messianic age.
God’s choice of a humble peasant girl to give birth to the Messiah signals that the great eschatological reversal has already commenced. God’s values and the world’s values often clash in a collision of opposites. To partner with Christ in the work of the kingdom is to side with the poor, weak, powerless, and humble, for to them belongs God’s new world. Unless we find ourselves among them, we will not likely encounter Christ’s presence or experience Christ’s redemption.
The gospel of God’s new world that Jesus proclaimed and incarnated has been altered and distorted by many modern versions of Christianity, which attempt to make the message more marketable to a culture obsessed with solace and security. Whether the focus is on health and wealth in this life or the afterlife, some folks want a Jesus who can solve all their problems, answer all their questions, and be an endless source of comfort and happiness. Jesus, however, who was born in humility and died in humiliation, bid his followers to take up their cross and pursue his same path of surrender, service, and sacrifice for the good of others.
Christ’s coming in humility and service is not only tough to market, it is difficult to comprehend. Any rendering of Christianity that reduces the mystery of the incarnation to a propositional statement, a creed, or doctrinal formula diminishes its truth. Any attempt to explain it will inevitably miss the mark and stifle spiritual understanding.
The coming of God in Christ invites us to bow in wonder and entertain the mystery in a spirit of humility and awe. “Advent” is derived from a Latin word meaning “arrival” or “coming.” It marks something momentous: Christ’s coming into our midst.
The invitation to celebrate Advent includes both remembrance of the past (the life of Jesus of Nazareth) and anticipation of the future (God’s new world), though the light that was and will be is now, shimmering against the backdrop of our lives. The presence of Christ is for the present.
The invitation of Advent is the invitation—right now, this very moment—to open our ordinary lives, common experiences, and everyday relationships, as well as our deepest selves, to the Spirit of the living Christ. Today is the day the Lord has made. Let us gladly give ourselves to it, to live in it as one fully alive, with eyes wide open. Advent is now!
(The preceding reflections were adapted from my book, Shimmers of Light: Spiritual Reflections for the Christmas Season available form Wipf and Stock Publishers (wipfandstock.com). For more information click on the book cover)