It is getting darker earlier each day here at this old house. Winter solstice is coming! Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the darkness of this time of year corresponds so well with the themes of darkness and growing light in Advent. Isaiah 9: 2 is one of those great Advent readings:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
On my walk this morning, I was thinking of the stories I inhabit. Some of them are from my life; some are ones others have shared with me. Some are recent; others go back decades. I find that the stories I ruminate the most over are the ones that don’t feel finished in my mind. There seems to be an unanswered question or an unsettling encounter that was never resolved. Those are the stories that deeply carve ruts in my mind and heart.
Today, I was thinking also about the Story of Advent into Christmas. Tomorrow in worship, we will hear of John the Baptist and his time in the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord. John was Jesus’s cousin, older by about six months. There is some evidence that John was part of the Zealot community in Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. This community was like a monastic hermitage, where people, in this case Jewish men, went to live in the wilderness to avoid the “corruption” of the Temple worship system. (There really is nothing new under the sun, is there?)
Scholars who have excavated Qumran note its close location to the traditional site on the Jordan River, in modern day Jordan, where John was baptizing. (There are some very ancient steps at the site which may be the ones Jesus walked down into the water to be baptized by his cousin as they date from that era.) Some have even postulated that Jesus was part of that Zealot community because of his association with his cousin, John. All speculation, certainly, but from what the scholars know of the Qumran community’s lifestyle, John and even Jesus could have been there, either as members or visitors.
We know so little of the story of Jesus’s growing up years, with the exception of one incident when he was 12 (see Luke 2: 41-52). It is as if someone ripped out the middle of a great novel! We get the beginning, a paragraph in the middle and then the ending, which is still being written today in each of our lives. This Story isn’t over yet and is being written by all people in all times and places in history. What difference does this Story make to the stories I reflect on during my walks? To the story of my life? How does the story of my life fit into this greater Story of God’s work in the world?
Advent seeks to help us answer those questions. One of the things the Western Church has neglected to some degree, at least compared to the Eastern Orthodox Church’s emphasis on it, is the Incarnation of Jesus and what it means in our daily lives. Jesus coming in the flesh, entering time and geography, having a human story to live while he temporarily laid aside living in the eternal Story from which he was begotten of the Father, must make a functional impact on my life or Christmas is nothing more than a really good Hallmark movie.
If Jesus took on human flesh, then John 3: 16 makes sense (For God so loved the world). If we insist on keeping Jesus as a “super human” who never needed to sleep or go to the bathroom, John 3:16 has nothing practical to say to us. However, if the material world was worth redeeming from its fallen, not worthless, state, such that Jesus came and inhabited the world as fully human while remaining fully God (a mystery indeed) then the way I live in my body and care for the earth make a difference. If God thinks those things are important, then they need to be important to his followers as well.
As I am feeling the weight of the commercial holiday season (even without a TV forcing it on me even more!) and trying to balance all my regular work commitments with additional fun activities, I need to know this greater Story in my flesh. I need to understand that all that I am doing or trying to do between now and January 6th has a reason behind it, that it is more than a hyped-up family time. I need worship more than ever in these weeks ahead to remind me that the Story we tell in these days gives meaning to my small story and the stories of all people.
Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail, the incarnate deity,
Pleased in flesh with us to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.