December 23, 2012
What Jesus Started: Part Five of Five
Advent is the beginning of the Christian calendar. While the world waits till January for its hard reboot, Christians have already moved on. Advent, which begins typically toward the end of November, ends with the beginning of Christmas, which itself is not a day but a season and carries the church over the changing of the civil calendar. By January 7 the church is in its third season, already marking Ordinary Time.
Advent is a beginning that culminates in Christmas, a time that has become a time of gathering. We travel far and wide to see and reconnect with friends and loved ones. We sing songs together and give gifts to one another. We share meals and make memories. If Christmas weren't sacred for what it marked--the incarnation of the Lord in the world--it would be sacred merely for what it elicits in us.
Of course Christmas is sacred because God was made flesh and took up residence among us. But it's a false dichotomy to say that because the one is true, the other is insignificant. In fact Christmas is marked from the first by a gathering. Having seen the need of the world, and having purposed to make meaningful connection to the world, and having developed a plan that would involve training in the ways of the kingdom of God and sharing in the life of one another--having done all this, God inaugurates his incarnational mission by gathering people to himself.
In Christ God acts singularly, without need of anyone. But God does not act in solitude. The act of incarnation is at its foundation an act of solidarity: God willfully eliminating the distance between God and the Other. In Christ God binds himself to the people he created.
God is also, however, binding us one to another: Zechariah and Elizabeth to their son, John the Baptist; Mary to Joseph; Elizabeth to her cousin Mary; John to Jesus; Jesus to Israel and, through the ceremonial action of Anna and Simeon and later John, Israel to Jesus. Once, the apostle Peter tells us, we were not a people; but in Christ we have become the people of God (1 Peter 2:10).
So now, as Advent 2012 yields the floor to Christmas, and as our anticipation of Christ's coming gives way to our celebration of Emmanuel--God with us--let us not give up gathering, as so tragically many are in the habit of doing, but rather let us gather regularly--to encourage one another, to spur one another on in the mission God has for us, to remind ourselves that we are bound together by the God who made us and who so loved the world that he gave his only Son.
In this way the church is regularly birthed in the world. In this way it carries on the mission of God in the world. In this way the world, which year after year seems to turn on itself, gets set right and bound back together. Thanks be to God.
Read chapters five and six of What Jesus Started, along with the interlude "Church on the Porch." Then go through sessions nine and ten in the implementation guide. (You can get the book here.)
As you gather for Christmas this year, make a concerted effort to see the need of the people you've surrounded yourself with. Then seek meaningful connection with them--beyond the polite conversation that too often subverts such gatherings. Share what you've been learning about What Jesus Started and how it might impact on the lives of the people you're with. And then make plans to gather again as the year continues in January and beyond.