A few weeks ago, I was talking with an old college friend about the bible.
She left the mainline denomination in which she had been raised for a charismatic branch of the church. “The bible” she told me “reminds us that Christianity is special because we have Jesus. He’s so much nicer than the Old Testament God.” I wasn’t sure how to respond.
Words started to float in my brain, like ‘dualism’ and ‘supersessionism’ and ‘Marcionism.’ I began having flashbacks to Church History and Systematic classes, memories one does not choose to have, intrusive memories. “Umm, don’t you think it’s the same God?” “I guess I never thought about it before,” she said, “but no, I think the God of the Old Testament changed somehow and then he got well, nicer and loving.” I imagined what could be the catalyst for God’s personality shift. Self-appointed anger management classes? The Deity Serenity Prayer?
“Interesting” I said, which is exactly what you say when you’re trying to broach a subject tactfully, “but I think the God of the Hebrew bible, the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. God made flesh and all that.” “Well” my friend said, “that’s your opinion.” That’s when I realized what the real issue was. She dropped the ‘O’ bomb: opinion. She was like the bazillions of people everywhere who believe faith and religion fall into the realm of personal choice. The thing is, you don’t have to even be Christian to believe this because religion of opinion is so woven into the fabric of our modernist, post-modernist, first-amendish, consumerist American religion landscape.
Then, I started thinking about preaching. Is it possible that a good number of people believe we’re up at the front of the church just spouting our opinions with the goal of getting people to agree with us? Even if you sneak in a Greek word here or there or name drop Kierkegaard to add legitimacy, do hearers really believe that it’s about what we think, rather than pointing to a revelation beyond what we could ever dream up? Could it even be possible that some people believe that salvation is dependent upon our opinions? Is going to church no different than choosing between shopping at Target or Wal-Mart?
In this season of Advent we tell the most ridiculous tale; the revelation of God who is flesh and dwells among us. The incarnation of this God simultaneously reveals who God is and muddles all our ideas, opinions, or rationales about God, for what is given, what is disclosed, is nothing more than a child. A child for whom the prophecy is exact, for whom the morning stars open, for whom things grow heavy and for whom the heavenly hosts sing. A child, who is great, the most high, the Son of God. A child who will lead us, whose flesh is ours, and whose promises are too. Who comes with this cup of blessing to know our sin, who comes to raise us and all we love from death. Yet who is a child, nevertheless.
Can this strange tale, this humble revelation of God as an infant be reduced to an opinion? One more choice in the buffet line of gods? What is a quieting rejoinder is ultimately God’s revelation. Advent not only offers a glimpse of who God is but also peels back and exposes all our theologies, all our opinions for what they are: straw. In this wide, whirling universe where angels beg shepherds to go and see the child we discover there is no room in the stable for our rationales nor our reasons, there is only one unnerving love. This love is forever a reckless grace, forever given, forever ours.