I wonder how many hundreds of sermons, lectures, essays, articles, and books I’ve read that try to describe the initiative of God’s grace in Christ that we call Advent? And how many songs, pageants, dramas, concerts, and paintings have attempted the same? No matter how many I have experienced, none of them captures the whole story in all its depth, meaning, and purpose. On the other hand, many have expanded my understandings with a few simple words, or even a single line.
For instance, Eugene Peterson’s translation of John 1: 14 reads, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” My imagination goes wild with the image of God moving in the neighborhood. My neighborhood. Your neighborhood!
In a poem by Anne Weems, she writes, “It is not over, this birthing. There are always newer skies into which God can throw stars.” Wow. Incarnation continues. God is with us again and again. It’s never over!
Anne Weems also writes, “When we begin to think that we can predict the Advent of God, that we can box the Christ into a stable in Bethlehem, that’s just the time that God will be born in a place we can’t imagine and won’t believe.” This line sends me into a contemplative reflection and confession about all the ways I “box the Christ” into too little a space with too limited an expectation and imagination.
Madeleine L’Engle’s poem for Advent reads, “This is the irrational season when hope blooms right and wild. If Mary’d been filled with reason, there’d have been no room for the child.” I love the emphasis on the irrational and unreasonable quality of God’s initiative. The Advent of God’s love into this world makes no sense, and yet it makes all the sense in the world. Are people of faith out of touch with reality to focus on the way of love revealed in Christ, or are they in touch with the truest reality of all?
Charles Wesley, in his collection entitled “Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord,” presents dozens of poetic expressions about the Advent and incarnation. The simplest? “Reconciled. By a Child.” One of the more eccentric?
“The’ incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.”
Something strikes me in this about the infinite love of God contracted into the span of a human life. It is indeed incomprehensible.
Christmas cards may include a good line. One of my favorite from years ago shows a young child beside a Christmas tree late at night after the packages had all been opened. She is looking out the window toward a starlit winter sky. The words inside say, “Don’t worry. He’s coming.” At first, the card appears to be about Santa and the expectation of more material gifts to come. But upon further reflection, the perceptive reader realizes that there is no suggestion of Santa, and that our thinking such is a projection of our own culturally-nurtured expectation. It’s an Advent message: “Don’t worry. He’s coming.”
During the days to come hundreds of our churches, thousands of our pastors and worship leaders and musicians, and tens of thousands of our members and guests will gather to contemplate the incomprehensible offering of God’s grace to the world through the birth of Christ. Know that you are in my prayers. Whether God speaks to us through expansive cantatas, well-prepared sermons, the fellowship of friends, or through even a single line, may our hearts be open to receive. From my family to yours, God bless you!
Yours in Christ,