The Defenseless Baby and Almighty God
Photo by Flickr user John-Morgan
[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 2:12-22; Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
What is it that we want from God? What is it that God wants from us? The writers of Isaiah, Matthew, and Paul work on this question, each in his own way. In these stories and prophecies we recognize God as stern authority figure, a judge, a terrifying presence who doles out punishment in baffling ways on a schedule we can’t, and shouldn’t, try to understand.
Then, at the end of Advent we get a baby, born into the lower strata of society, in an oppressed population in a small town. The baby is born to an unmarried, teen mother, and watched over by nomads and animals. The baby is born as a subject of a dictator so afraid and so loathsome that he kills all of the Jewish boys to shore up his power and keep the population in check.
Isn't it astonishing, then, that we believe that defenseless baby is one with the terrifying, all-powerful, fearsome God that Isaiah, Matthew, and Paul wrote about?
It’s a profound reminder of the strange nature of power. It plays out over and over in the life and times of Jesus, and culminates in the sacrifice of that very defenseless, and yet, very powerful God.
These passages suggest three steps for Advent:
Clear away the encumbrances. The writer of Isaiah describes God’s desire to strip down the towers we build, such as our pride and our baggage. We use these things to protect ourselves from ourselves, from each other, from what God wants us to do. This requires a certain level of honesty about why we do what we do, and a certain clarity of vision, because my motivations for building the self-same tower might be different from you building yours, and I have to be honest with myself.
Examine the gifts we’ve been given. In Matthew, Jesus tells the story of the servant who takes one talent and buries it because he fears the wrath of his master. But God wants us to make use of what we have and not be afraid.
Open our hearts to the unexpected. We must be open to the unexpected presence of God in our lives and the coming of the Messiah. Paul suggests we operate in the time-between-time -- when we don't know what the future holds, and don't know when God will make God’s presence known, but know that God will. We need to be willing to make changes to live in the paradox of the time-between time, even if we thought we knew what we were supposed to be doing.
This is somewhat difficult because of how busy the holidays can be. It is also difficult because our problems are real, immediate, and significant. God’s presence is quiet and steady, and we live in it as a fish lives in water. It takes concentration and love to feel it around us. Fortunately, God demonstrates God's presence most profoundly in the coming of the Immanuel, God with us.
Prayer: Let me be still and know that you are God. Amen.
Rebecca Davis is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
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