Reminder: The plain meaning of “advent” is “a beginning,” and to that end the season of advent means “the beginning of the church year,” a time when (traditionally, anyway) the church spends time in reflection and anticipation of the coming of Jesus in to the world.
But I think in this sense this season is God’s advent too, meaning that coming of Jesus into the world marks the beginning of God’s coming-into-the-world through Jesus. It’s the beginning of this particular part of God’s rescue plan for the world.
(BTW, after the Garden of Eden, the plan for the rescue of the world actually starts in Genesis 12, with the call of Abram. Jesus’ arrival may actually be better understood as the culmination of this plan, and not a “brand new” plan.)
So the birth of Jesus marks the beginning of God’s plan to rescue the world through the work of a human being who is 100% human and 100% god (we call that the “Incarnation,” and it’s probably one of the most important theological distinctions of our faith, IMO).
It’s the BEGINNING.
The beginning of the plan is marked by a baby born to young, scared, refugee parents.
It’s the beginning.
And then the plan goes on—the boy Jesus grows up, learns and is educated within the Jewish system of education.
Jesus learns to be a good, faithful Jew.
The plan goes on—Jesus becomes a disciple of John the Baptizer, learning from him and continuing to grow in faith and wisdom and understanding, until at around age 30 he submits himself to John’s baptism.
The plan goes on… Jesus starts teaching, very much like a Jewish rabbi of his age. He gets a following up in the north of Palestine, in Galilee, around his home.
People respond to his teaching, which is about how to live a life that is wholeheartedly sold out to God and His kingdom.
The plan goes on… Over a few years, Jesus confronts the religious establishment, mostly over the role of the Temple in religious life, and keeping kosher, and just who gets to participate in the Kingdom.
Somewhere along the way, Jesus starts to tell his followers that his ministry is going to end up with him dying at the hands of the religious leaders and the Roman occupying force. He tells them also that his death is going to be a “ransom” for people. (Which means that (a) this death is going to set people free, and—following logically—(b) people are in bondage/slavery
This confrontation culminates in a week in Jerusalem, where he eventually angers the religious leaders so much that they conspire to have him executed by the Roman occupation.
Jesus remains faithful to his mission on earth, even through torture and death, and is crucified outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Three days later he is vindicated by God and resurrected in his body, after which he further teaches his disciples, until he eventually takes his place with God and the Holy Spirit.
Okay… there’s obviously more details to the plan, but that’s at least a broad brush stroke.
But here’s my point: the plan does not start with the empty tomb.
The plan does not with Jesus’ death on the Cross.
The plan does not start at Gethsemane.
The plan doesn’t even start with the miracles Jesus performs, or the Sermon on the Mount.
The plan STARTS with the birth.
And my thinking is, if all of this is God’s plan, then the whole plan matters.
YES the resurrection; YES, the Cross, but also YES the birth, the teaching, the miracles, the growing up, the education, the learning, and so on and so on.
So much of my life I’ve behaved as if the only thing that really mattered in Jesus’ life was, well, his death.
Later I started to include the resurrection, but it’s only recently that I’ve had to come to the conclusion that the life—the miracles, the ministry, the teaching, ALL OF IT—has to matter just as much as the death and resurrection.
As I’ve heard a theologian say, “As I Christian, I could tell you why Jesus had to die, but am I able to tell someone just why Jesus had to live?
(much less be born in a manger)
Advent gives an opportunity to pause and think about THE WAY in which God shows up on earth.
What does it mean for the Creator to choose a birth like this?
Thinking about that question has brought a richness to my faith; maybe it can do the same for someone else.
But the answers do not always come easily, but usually they come … with a certain amount of quiet humility, away from the crowds, and with a certain amount of faith.
Kinda just like how God comes to earth.