Last Sunday marked the beginning of the Advent season, or at least I think it did, I never really have kept track of such things. Advent calenders were entirely too Catholic for my Baptist upbringing, and so most of my life, the only delineation of the Christmas season was the black Friday sales the day after Thanksgiving. Maybe its been recent faith shifts in my own life, or maybe its the fact that lately we have gone straight from Halloween to Christmas, but I am learning to see more value in the idea of advent.
You see, each day of advent, we take a little time to think about some little part of the Christmas story. Advent literally means the revealing or unveiling, and with each day that we think about the Christmas story, it reveals yet another small piece of the story until we arrive at Christmas Day and the entire story is compiled and unfolded, culminating in the revealing of the long awaited Savior. I guess that anyone who believes in the Christmas story can appreciate the beauty and mystery of this gradual unveiling, Catholic or not.
As I look at the Advent, and look at all the different aspects of the work of Christ, one thing that really stands out to me is the whole concept of incarnation. Now I know, being an incarnational minister and all, this is probably not shocking to anyone who knows me, but do we really appreciate what is involved in the incarnation of God through Jesus?
First, let us look at what incarnation is, I like to call it fleshifying or putting skin on it. You see, before Jesus came, God was just an idea, he was a concept, a vision, a remote thing that had no real shape or form. What do I mean, well, lets look at an example, Love, the bible tells us that God is Love, and we hear about love, and we think we know what it is, but really, it is only a concept or abstract idea, right up until we read in Romans 5:8 that "God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ dies for us". You see, when Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice, his own life, for those who did not deserve it, love stopped being a concept and became a real tangible thing. Love became flesh, it had a literal physical description, it had skin on so to speak. And this is exactly what Jesus did with God. That's why over and over in the book of John we see Jesus saying things like "if you have seen me you have seen the Father".
Jesus was very literally God with skin on, but when we look at all of the things Jesus did; atonement, redemption, sacrifice, how can I say that incarnation was possibly His most important work? Well, according to Romans 5, Jesus purpose was undoing the damage done by Adam at the fall, so we go back there and what do we find. Satan convinced Adam and Eve that God was not good, in fact, God was withholding from them some good thing (knowledge of good and evil). After Adam and eve eat the apple, they hide in fear from God, fearing that just like Satan said, God was not indeed good. But from here on there is a consistent story that runs all through the Bible until Jesus finally arrives.
God out of his goodness removes man from the garden before he can eat the fruit of the tree of life and make redemption impossible. out of his goodness God does not punish Cain with death for killing his brother and instead gives him a mark of protection. God in his mercy gives a extremely wicked mankind 120 years of preaching and warning before a worldwide calamity. God in His mercy confuses the languages of the people before they recognize the futility of their attempts to reconquer paradise by building a tower to God. He reaches out again and calls a people unto Himself to redeem and even invites them to once again come and commune with him and out of fear they refuse and God places a barrier (the sacrificial system) between them and Himself as a demonstration of his goodness and mercy.
You see, one of the things that Adam lost was the truth about who God was, and from the fall right up until the Advent, mankind had been living their lives in fear, not the kind of reverent fear that comes from knowing the true God, but the barrier building, untrusting, hide from and rebel against someone who truly loves you kind of fear. Man was afraid of God, not because of who He is, but because they misunderstood who He is, they bought into the Lie from Satan and as a result, they hid from God and kept hiding for thousands of years.
And then Jesus came, and he didn't look anything like they thought God should look, and he told them "he who has seen me has seen the Father". He loved people, he could have judged them, and justly so, but instead, he forgave, He healed those who were sick, He gave hope to tax collectors and prostitutes, In fact, the people he treated harshly were those who still had the wrong idea of who God was and what he wanted and refused to give that up. I am not saying that redemption and atonement and all of the other things Jesus did were less important, but all of them were part and parcel of revealing God's true heart. All of them were part of fleshing the idea of God and really that is the whole idea of the Advent, revealing God.