God is with us but where?

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Another year, another Advent season. God is with us and it is spectacular. Or, maybe it isn’t anymore. Perhaps, we are beginning to feel that God has come and gone due to a political season that has taken a toll on the American psyche.

And then there is the fact that Jesus’ story could now be confused with another Disney film. No, Mary is not waiting in a castle for a prince to save her. She already has a fiancé, which makes things a bit complicated at first. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.

Despite the addressed wedding invitations and a near complete reception dinner seating chart, God sends a message to a teenage girl. She is the least likely; they will not check her womb for the Messiah.

Our memory of Christ’s birth gets a little sketchy after this. We don’t remember it like his mother would. Our neat nativity scenes show no signs of labor. Like the cross, we have removed all references to her suffering. No pushing and pulling, only holy awe and adoration. No screams of pain, only the praises of the angels. I suppose we are also expected to believe that she cleaned up after giving birth to the Son of God.

Despite our unrealistic depictions, God is with us — not by satellite or even as a hologram. Mysteriously, the Spirit God puts on flesh. If that is not confounding enough, God comes not as a king or even a grownup but as a baby, cooing and kicking.

God is with us.Waah.  

N.T. Wright shares in his book Following Jesus:

“The longer you look at Jesus, the more you will want to serve him in his world. That is, of course, if it’s the real Jesus you’re looking at. Plenty of people in the church and outside it have made up a ‘Jesus’ for themselves, and have found that this invented character makes few real demands on them. He makes them feel happy from time to time but doesn’t challenge them, doesn’t suggest that they get up and do something about the plight of the world. Which is, of course, what the real Jesus had an uncomfortable habit of doing.”

During this Advent season, we declare, “God is with us.” But, where? Where have we followed Jesus to? Or, is Jesus following us around?

American capitalism would have us to believe that Jesus is in stores — not sanctuaries. The announcement of his birth replaced with powdered sugar jingles. Our good news comes in coupons. The Savior of the world has arrived and we are following the sales.

What a discount. God is with us and we are out shopping.

God is revealed in Christ and we are wrapping up more and more stuff. “Yeah, yeah. I know. Jesus is the reason for the season.”

It is so easy to dismiss him now. It is all in fun and for the sake of tradition. More trees, more tinsel, more presents. Pass the egg nog and hold the mistletoe.

God’s world becomes an ornament — a shiny, hollow, glittery shell. 

God is with us. But, the star of Bethlehem now competes with Christmas lights? Thanks to Siri, we would consider ourselves wise but would we travel to visit him despite the rise in gas costs, traffic forecasts and weather predictions? And what gifts would we bring, for he has no need of a 64- inch flat screen television?

Or, are we looking for someone else, the made-up Jesus that Wright talks about? Who is this Jesus who fits into our cultural folklore of a snowman who comes alive and a red-nosed reindeer who discovers his purpose? Who is this Jesus who doesn’t mind us waiting up for Santa because he was born under a Christmas tree? Oh, the irony that his story is now second to the ones that we have created.

There was no room for him in the inn, but is there room for him now? Where would Jesus fit now? Whose home would be ready to receive him? What space have we created for a woman in labor and preparing to deliver the Son of God?

We gather around to sing carols and she is panting and sweating. We are decorating Christmas trees and Joseph is holding her hand and dabbing her brow. We are baking cookies and the animals are kicking up dirt and joining in this holy racket. We are making crafts and they are making a blanket out of a milk rag.

I hate to break it to you, but Jesus does not enter the world with a bow on his head. God is with us in Christ Jesus, and the story should not be left up to the magic of Disney because it is his story — not ours.

Phyllis Tickle writes in the foreword to Jesus Brand Spirituality, “The faith we Christians claim has been so dented and chipped and discolored by the centuries, so institutionalized and codified and doctrinalized, so written upon and then so overwritten into palimpsest, that there are few Christians who still can discern the contours of the original.” God is with us. Really? Where did you see his star? From where did you hear his cries? Or, is it a distant memory, the echo of centuries ago? Are we merely repeating what we have heard, taking pictures of a memory that we don’t have time to participate in?

Yes, God is with us but where?

*This post was originally written on December 22, 2016 and shared with the community of readers at Baptist News Global.

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