FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
SCRIPTURE: LUKE 1:39-45
Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
"Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled."
As we decorated Christmas cookies Soren, my five-year-old step grandson, took the spatula filled with frosting and stuck it in his mouth. After eating the frosting, he quickly went to put the spatula back in the frosting again! Already concerned about the effects and energy associated with high blood sugar level and worrying about tainting the frosting with a “double-dip” I screamed NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! He was startled, but it certainly got his attention and stopped him in his tracks. No five-year-old germs would go into that frosting on my watch! For a moment it looked like he might cry, and I thought, maybe there was a better way to stop him. Yet I doubt any parent or grandparent would question my use of adult power. Isn’t that what all of us do when we want to obtain someone’s attention in a hurry? We react, we get loud, we scream, we wave our arms, we do what it takes. In the age of social media, the competition for attention leads many to be boastful and bombastic. Others use their sexuality or violence or ridiculous controversial assertions simply to gain attention. We live in a culture where power, position, popularity and wealth are upheld as the measure of success. Too many people will do whatever it takes to gain that notoriety and the trappings that accompany it. Our society claims those as the winners. Immigrants, those in poverty, sick, and victims of violence are the losers. Who then, in their right mind, would decide to communicate to the world through the most common, unremarkable, not unique experience- the birth of a baby? The answer: our God!
“Thus, says the LORD: You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel;”
The source of delivery for the people of Israel will come from a place that is small, unremarkable and barely noteworthy. God will claim power through the line of David, a shepherd who was a nobody. Everything about the incarnation story is one of humility and gives us insight into how God views power and the importance of the mundane.
When I was in college, I remember often speaking to one of my mentors about Jesus and the nature of Jesus. He used this phrase many times:
Jesus is the fullest embodiment of God in human form.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians says it this way, “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,” Becoming human was a step down for God. By becoming human, God does yield his power as fear or judgment or condemnation or “winning,” instead God sets limits. Where God is all knowing (omniscient), Jesus had to grow in wisdom and stature (Luke); Where God is all-powerful (omnipotent), Jesus dies on the cross; where God is everywhere (omnipresence), Jesus is vulnerable, born in a barn and placed in a feeding trough in a town that is nowhere. God’s involvement in the transformation of humanity occurs through a quiet, humble action that no one notices, and culminates in an execution.
Wouldn’t it have been a lot easier if God would have arrived in a scene with great production value, thunder and lightning, earthquakes, a significant light show and the music building to a crescendo? And then in the most dramatic way -like yelling at a little boy putting a spatula in the frosting- screamed- repent the time of the Lord is at hand! Change your life and become obedient to the King of Kings!
God has never operated that way. The arrogance of this age is not and has never been the way of God.
Jesus is Emmanuel- God with us; living in the mess of our lives with us. The Gospel reveals how common the incarnation is. The story includes a visit from one cousin to another; welcoming and joy in their relationship, conversation about the stirring of the babies in the womb. This situation is occurring all across the globe to millions of people right now as you read this. What is remarkable about this story is the degree to which God is present in the common aspects of our lives. God is not out there waiting to yield his power as a “winner.” God is in our awkward and insufficient attempts to love, relate and care for one another. God is in our stale and stilted hopes and dreams; God is in our failings and shortcomings. This is the incarnation. God is not the all-powerful deity out there, aloof and above humanity. God is present- right now. God is with us through Jesus as the fullest embodiment of God in human form.
Two days from now we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. We can focus on the historical event and how God humbly got involved in humanity 2000 plus years ago. Or we can also celebrate that the incarnation has not ended. It was just a historical event, but it is also a cosmic event. The incarnation happens every day. God is incarnate in the family you will see and struggle relating to, the friends you confide in, the young person you mentor, the vulnerable person you serve. You are the incarnation. Whereas Jesus is the fullest embodiment of God in human form, we are a flawed and partial embodiment of God in human form, but we do have a choice about revealing God. Not in the same way as Jesus, we are adopted sons and daughters. As adopted sons and daughters we can embody and communicate in humility the love, forgiveness, justice and mercy of God to the world. As advent comes to a close and we transition into the Christmas season, will the incarnation happen through you? Will you see God’s activity all around you in the mess of your life?
Who has been an example of the embodiment of God for you?
In what ‘common’ ways have you expereinced God?
Reflect on your spiritual preference: do you prefer a God who is all-powerful, mighty or one who is common, with you every step of the way? Why do you think this is so? What does it say about your spirituality?
How do you embody God?
Joe Nettesheim is the founder and director of 12plus1, a service learning ministry focusing on giving witness to Jesus through action and finding Christ in all we serve.