“Tis the season. . . “ Here we are remembering and preparing for the arrival; preparing for the arrival of God. It’s Advent. As if preparing for God’s arrival is something we could possibly do. It strikes me that when God shows up, most of us are like Abraham, Moses, Peter and Paul, are totally unprepared. Come to think of it, even Joseph to whom Mary was betrothed wasn’t prepared. Considering the circumstances, how could he be? It took a dream, some type of special message to get him ready, or at least somewhat ready for God showing up. How ready can we really be for God’s coming? Mary appears in better shape, but she too, while receptive is startled at the manner of God’s showing up to her. She humbly submits, for what she hears is far more than she can comprehend!
Consider for a moment, God’s showing up to Moses in the burning bush. It is something like a pointer to our Christmas reality. Moses is out in the wilderness of Midian tending his father-in-law’s sheep. He is there as an escapee from Egypt having murdered a man. A man in the wilderness in more ways than one, weighed down by a guilty conscience. Buechner points out something of the earthiness in the story when he suggests there was more on Moses’ sandals than sand, given the fact he was traipsing around the countryside with a bunch of dim witted sheep. Out of the blue, God shows up to Moses and tells Moses first and foremost, to get his shoes off because he is standing on Holy Ground. This brings to mind my Grandmother Anna Flach, who stood vigilantly at the door when we as kids came into the farm house from our childhood play in the barn. She inspected our shoes in an attempt to keep a bunch of cow left-overs off her floors she had diligently scrubbed. She was interested in preserving a measure of cleanliness and beauty in her home. Moses taking his shoes off is the beginning of his journey toward cleanliness, or better said, the continuation of God’s efforts to re-establish and preserve the beauty he intended for his created order.
At any rate, Moses bare footed, stands before God and a bush which was miraculously burning without being consumed, unless of course you prefer to call it some figment of his imagination as some do. It was Muggeridge who made the point that the idol of western civilization is the adulation of rationality. Muggeridge was a big fan of Pascal, the brilliant 18th century scientist, who summed up Muggeridge’s perspective from a positive point of view when he stated, “The heart has reasons that reason doesn’t know.” The point of the Moses account, and the entirety of Scripture for that matter, is if and when the living God shows up, expect something extraordinary to happen within the ordinary. Look for what God is doing in the earthy stuff of our human experience, which is a main point in the C.S. Lewis essay entitled “Transposition.” It is the earthy reality of a bush burning that grabs the attention of Moses. What happens next is God calling Moses specifically by name, “Moses, Moses.” A rather terrifying prospect for Moses given his wilderness circumstances and state of mind. And I would think a terrifying moment for anyone to suddenly stand in the presence of God and be called out personally with shoes on or off. Then God speaks and God tells Moses essentially to go. He is to go not anywhere, but back to the very citadel of power in the country from which he is an escaped murderer. No wonder he was looking for excuses. Much of Moses’ account as we briefly consider it, seems to me to be something of a precursor. A pointing ahead. Moses living in a wilderness, the escapee running from his own life, a guilty conscience, the stench of uncleanliness, a barefooted vulnerable man, a miracle, God’s showing up in an extraordinary way in an ordinary bush, and an intensely personal encounter with the God who relentlessly pursues.
So God, in this season of Advent comes miraculously blowing up our neat categories of rationality by which we seek to control our life. God’s coming, is of course the essential Christmas message and the very reality we prepare for as best we can during Advent. But Advent’s remembering of God’s coming is like and unlike his visitation with Moses. The Advent coming of God is intensely more earthbound while at the same time turning on its head all normal earthbound realities of how a human life begins. “And the Word became flesh” as the apostle John puts it. God comes as a human person through the power of the Spirit, a virgin birth. A miracle in one of the most earthy realities of human existence, conception. God the Son arrives now earth bound, body bound and time bound. God needs to be nursed, to sleep and be bathed. It is that earthy! Paul says God emptied himself to be with us. He surely did; a long descent for our sake. A descent into the earth bound material world of our flesh and blood. A descent into a world of brokenness, fickleness, confusion and temptation. “He was tempted as we are in every respect yet without sin.” God the Son assumes human flesh and in doing so, human flesh is taken up into the Godhead. When we think about this it is all holy ground, a staggering, sacred reality. This is the miracle upon which history pivots If we care to see it and take it in.
The manner of God’s coming in humility and poverty offers a stunning possibility to a person with a guilty conscience, which is all of us if we are rightminded. It is the possibility of a personal encounter with the living God. The incarnation, as the theologians call it, is all about God’s presence with us. Immanuel, as the Scripture states; God with me. And he has a name, he shall be called Jesus because he is a Savior. A Savior, the very thing guilty minded and entrapped souls need who have all sorts of left overs on their shoes.
As the story unfolds and the infant child grows into manhood, the intensity of God’s personal calling persists. Now it is Jesus, God’s Son calling by name. He calls Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip and down through the ages millions more, including you and me. He calls us not as a herd, but individually, Rich, Sallie, Jim, Joy, Clif, Sally and you, so we might be saved from our sin. He calls to reclaim us with His life so that we might become ourselves, and in the end become more than what we ever could imagine. His coming, the miraculous birth, his calling us by name, His saving us from our sin, isn’t the end but truly the beginning.
Now by faith in Jesus our life is hidden with Christ in God. A miracle all its own! He is the vine, we are the branches. He takes us into himself while we are yet sinners without life. He finds us in our own wilderness, escapees mostly from ourselves. His coming is for connection, for communion. He comes to us and re-establishes the very experience for which we are created. The miracle of the incarnation’s culmination is that now we who believe in this Savior, are God’s children. We call God Abba, translated as Daddy. Individually and corporately we now participate in the life of God for the glory of God. He is our life, not metaphorically, but literally and truly. And his life is light, freeing us from our inner darkness of guilt, shame and fear. Death no longer reigns. His life reigns and his life is our life and our life is his life.
At Christmas the angels joyfully sing and rightfully so, for the Christ ushers in wonder upon wonder. We now have hope in Him. We can in Christ see more clearly many things. Even our childhood Christmas experiences of multi-colored lights, cookies, carols, and gifts that held such deep wonder and anticipation are now truly understood. We remember and keep Advent and all our Christmas Traditions not just to help us have something so we might be grounded in nostalgic remembrance. We keep Advent and Christmas because deep within us there is a burning hope and expectation that our childhood Christmas memories foretold. The hope that those of us who through the eyes of faith believe the miracles, will in the end one day see the miraculous fulfilment of all our hopes and expectations. We shall see our Savior face to face, and even more we shall be fully known by God which shall be our greatest gift and deepest joy. We shall enjoy the living God’s presence in a new heaven and a new earth. So then we like Moses stand on holy ground, in the presence of God wherever we may be in our timebound earthy life, and whatever we may be tending, because God has come and he is with us. So take your shoes off! Prepare as best you can. God will help us. It is all sacred ground! God is at work through his Spirit in all our ordinary earthy reality. He has called us by name out of our wilderness and strategies of escapism, and now we are home in Him! Our Savior has come! He is bringing to completion what he began. Praise him and Merry Christmas!!