By Susan C. Johnson
When God is the one bestowing the gifts, we get exactly what we need—in the most creative wrapping imaginable.
This is the second of “Advent Musings,” a series of meditations written by Canadian Anglicans (and friends) and published on anglican.ca each Monday in Advent.
When I was a child, although I liked many of the traditions of Advent and Christmas, I was most focused on the presents that would eventually show up under the tree. As I’ve gotten older, my focus and my joy are more and more about the way that the traditions of Advent and Christmas point to the true gift of the season.
The gift we celebrate was first announced to the shepherds. It was the promise of peace on earth and of salvation, redemption, justice, forgiveness, and love. Talk about a big present and one worth waiting for! A gift that can only come from God.
The shepherds were no doubt ecstatic, and along with being scared and confused (you don’t see angels every day, do you!) they were undoubtedly excited.
Then they are told how they will recognize this gift. The angels describe the way that the gift is wrapped—as a baby, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. A very human baby, complete with all of the usual baby sounds, smells, joys, and worries.
It seems like a strange way to package a gift, but by using this human wrapping, God answers the age-old question, where is God?
God tried many different approaches: appearing on mountain tops, in burning bushes, as pillars of cloud and fire, and speaking through other human beings, such as the prophets. But it never seemed to be enough. We still had a hard time understanding and relating to God. Here God takes on our form and puts on human flesh. We are able to see and to experience our Lord through the very personhood of Jesus and to locate God in the midst of our world.
Jesus shows us how much we are loved, how much God wants to help us understand God, by coming down to our level and being revealed to us in a form we can comprehend. God understood our need for intimacy, personal contact, and conversation.
Through Jesus, God takes on the limitations of our human flesh, experiences fully our joys and sorrows, participates in our struggles and our triumphs, and models for us the way to live our lives, knowing that we learn best by demonstration, not just instruction.
God honours us by taking on the wrappings and trappings of our lives. We don’t always like our bodies or feel comfortable with our physical selves. Sometimes our dissatisfaction with our external, physical selves indicates a deeper unhappiness with our internal selves. God changes all of that as Jesus gives honour to our fleshly selves by putting on flesh, by taking on this human form.
This Christmas we will once again celebrate the amazing gift that we have been given. Our Lord keeps on coming to us in fleshly form, reminding us of God’s love, reminding us of God’s gifts of salvation, forgiveness, peace, justice, and love.
This gift is for sharing, and I invite you to respond as the shepherds did. Enjoy the gift by all means, but then go out and share this gift with others—with our families; with those we work with, study with, and play with; with people we don’t even know, whether right next door or around the world. Don’t worry. There is plenty for all!
The Rev. Susan C. Johnson is the National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. This article appears in the Dec. 2008 issue of Canada Lutheran.
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