Advent is a season to focus our anticipation on the birth of divine love with us. And, let’s face it, it’s also often a season of shopping hurriedly in crowds while tired; feeling sick from too many sweets; feeling stressed, irritable, or out of sync with the merry music playing everywhere; noticing un-Hallmark like imperfections in our families; feeling loneliness or grief; or running ourselves ragged.
Yet, despite this, it seems that the “close and holy darkness” draws us all into its arms. The birth occurs in us no matter what. No matter how unaware of it we feel, how busy we are or how dark the world appears. The birth arrives no matter how inferior or spiritually immature we think we are, no matter what burdens we may be carrying or pains we can’t shake.
God’s love is like that: no exceptions.
Episcopal priest Morton Kelsey wrote that the “rough, crude, dirty, foul-smelling stable,” is a great consolation to us all, for “none of us can say we are not good enough for love to be born in us . . . The Christ seems to be born among men and women whose lives are filled with helplessness and frustration and who cannot seem to make of themselves what they wish.”
In truth, of course, God is already with us. Year after year this season simply gives us the opportunity to remember. We need the repetition: God’s is with us, being born in us always. It is ours to receive and engage with, saying Yes with our lives.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the angel tells Joseph that the son that Mary will bear will fulfill what the Lord spoke through the prophet: a young woman will bear a son who shall be named Emmanuel, which means: “God is with us.”
God with us is not just a pleasant theological idea, but a reality that we are free to choose to tangibly experience.
How? In an insightful reflection, Rev. Sam Wells points us to a significant way. Naming scripture passages that show God’s fundamental commitment to be with us, Wells reflects that in these scriptures we have “perhaps stumbled upon the most important word in the Bible – the word that describes the heart of God and the nature of God’s purpose and destiny for us. And that word is with.”
Wells suggests that the “central choice of our lives” is the choice to imitate God in this being with.
To imitate God in being with is a powerful way to experience of God’s birth and presence. We imitate this by being with God, one another, and ourselves. In these ways, we are fed and bring grace through us, say Yes to Christ’s birth in us, Yes to God’s destiny for us, Yes to all that we are intended to be.
Being with God: We can do this through stillness, prayerful listening, scripture reading, liturgy. These and other practices open the gates of our heart, awaken our awareness to God's presence, train our vision on God, counteract our misunderstandings, strengthen us beyond our imagining.
Being with one another: Like the earliest Christians, and all faith communities around the world, we need to be with each other in deep, intentional ways. We need the comfort and communion. We need to listen to one another, to love one another into the fullness of being who we are. We need to be encouraged by unconditional love, to share spiritual experiences, learn to forgive, practice the kind of love that Jesus taught, and to risk being vulnerable. We also need to be with those who are different than us, to be in relationship and solidarity with our human family and help God end the utter insanity of brothers and sisters all over the earth hurting and killing each other.
Being with ourselves: We need to know the truth of God’s vision of us: that we are beloved and worthy and our gifts are important and needed. We need to inquire within and observe ourselves to see who we really are, and who we only falsely believe ourselves to be, which limits us and causes unnecessary suffering. We need to see ourselves with compassion and truth to bring all of who we are to God for healing.
Significantly, it is not just for ourselves that we imitate God in being with. In his Advent message, Bishop Breidenthal reminds us: “We are taken up into the drama of Jesus’ incarnation . . . we ourselves are to join in the process of connecting the human race with God. . .Jesus sends us more deeply and fully into relationship with everything around us . . .”
With our engaged consent, the holy birth flows through us and into the world through graces God planted in our hearts: love, peace, gentleness, strength, loving-kindness, light, courage, wisdom, humility. In these qualities, and through words and actions fueled by them, God is born into the world through us. No matter how sad we feel, no matter what we might be thinking about the people at Kroger walking at a snail’s pace in front of us, how many cookies we eat, or how overwhelmed we feel: we are fashioned by God to be birthplaces of God.
Through our Yes, God brings light and peace not only into our hearts and lives, but into the hearts of others and into the world with infinite results. Just like the sweet, vulnerable baby in the stable at Bethlehem, there is nothing more precious and holy in this human life.