Waiting and preparation shape these days of Advent, two thousand years ago and today.
In this season of Advent, a season defined and determined by faith, we wait, certain of surprise, certain of something new, certain of transformation. It has happened to us before.
But we also remember that latent within this proclamation lies a surprise. Yes, we wait, for one who is more powerful than any prophet, we wait, we anticipate one who does not merely baptize us with water, but with the Holy Spirit. We wait for the one who is the good news himself, and we hold in tension that waiting a surprise; the shepherd will be nothing more than a child, a baby in fact. The one who will lead us, the one to gather us in, our shepherd, is nothing more than a small boy, who as Luther writes, must be coddled at his mother’s breast. A wild mercy.
Christianity is peculiar and particular because within the recesses of the faith lie mystery and surprise. Around each corner and under every new leaf lies something hopeful and redemptive. It seems less than what we expect, but out of its unnerving revelations come more than we could ever in our lifetime desire. Its very simplicity is deceptive, for we might never dream that God has so blessed the people and things around us. We cannot believe that its ordinary demands can be so transforming. Most of all, we cannot believe that a God might be so vulnerable, and in that vulnerability, claim power. A baby of all things? We cannot believe that God beckons us, again and again and again, loving us not in spite of our faults, but because of them. We cannot believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, comes to us and calls us home with such mercy.
Everything else this season is cheap, temporal, ersatz, painted…fragments of glass. There is a reason that God, the great shepherd, came as a child, and it is anything but sentimental. It was not because Jesus was merely innocent, but also because he was incompetent. Babies are. And so are men on crosses. The foolish, backwards wisdom of God. The Bethlehem mystery will ever remain a scandal to aspiring disciples who seek a triumphant Savior and a prosperity gospel. But it is here, in the stable, the exiles come on their knees to know God, to repent, to be forgiven, to discover who they are, to witness restless love and an uncompromising grace.
Soon, very soon, God will enter our world not with the crushing impact of unbearable glory, but instead will come in the way of weakness, vulnerability and need. On a wintry night, in an obscure hovel, the infant Jesus will be born, incompetent and naked; a helpless God, full of a wild mercy, who beckons us, with all our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, to get close to him.
Prepare the way of the Lord.