Monday, November 30, 2015

A Mantra for Advent: Be There With All

Author Leonard Sweet summarizes the essence of Methodism with a four-word mantra: be there with all[1].

With Advent now upon us, I have been mulling over these words in a different context... 

We believe that Jesus came to be.  Jesus was the Living Word. Followers of Christ view Jesus as the Second Person of the Trinity; John says he was with God from the beginning.  Paul calls Jesus the image of the invisible God.  We believe he was human—he was born, lived, and died—but he was also divine—the only one resurrected after three days.  Through Jesus, we see the ultimate example of a human life lived for God.  While we can’t be Jesus, because Christ dwells in us, we do possess the potential become the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be.

We believe that Jesus came to be there.  In Eugene Petersen’s translation of John 1, he says, the Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood. N.T. Wright suggests God decided to set up his tabernacle—his portable dwelling place—on our planet, at a specific place and time in history: Nazareth in ~5 BC.  The birth of Jesus brought God’s Divine Presence into our ordinary lives.  He had an ordinary birth and for a while, at least, had an ordinary childhood—and by his Presence, he made these and other ordinary things extraordinary. He breathed the same air molecules, drank the same water, and walked on some of the same soil that we do today.  You can imagine that he cared about the people that lived in his neighborhood just like we do.  At home living with his family is where he acquired many of the traits that came to characterize his later ministry: e.g., love, mercy, compassion, justice. As he watched his parents model hospitality and fellowship and other spiritual practices, he learned skills that would serve him later in life.

We believe that Jesus came to be there with.  The Birth narratives in Matthew and Luke say that Jesus had a mother and father, and at least according to some accounts, family.  So he experienced what it is to interact with others.  Surely, as with any human being, there were those with whom he didn’t get along—but I bet he learned from those people as much or more than he did from his friends. In our Advent readings, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of Immanuel—God with us.  Christians interpret this as a reference to Jesus. So we see Jesus as God with us.  Later, in a passage we typically read during Holy Week, Isaiah speaks of a Suffering Servant who will bear the sin and pain of his people.  

In some mysterious way, in order for God to be with us in every way, Jesus had to experience the full range of what it is to be human—from birth, throughout life, and culminating with death. 
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We believe that Jesus came to be there with all.  He came proclaiming the good news that because of his birth, the Kingdom of God was now available to all—not just after we die.  The way he was born, the kind of life he lived—and the type of death he would eventually die—all pointed to this reality.  

Jesus’ entire being embodied the all-inclusive message that he was so passionate to proclaim. 
God so loved the world that He gave his only Son—John 3:16.
In other words, God was willing to give all of Himself for all of us.
The journey from Christmas to Easter shows just how far God goes to be there with all.  

Through the Incarnation, God chose to be there in a more personal way than ever before. God took on a human face and moved into a specific place.  He lived out his life at a specific place and time in history—but the impact of his life continues to reverberate across the globe and backward and forward through all of human history.  Followers of Christ believe that all that has happened or will happen must be seen in light of this single transformative event in history.  We call Jesus alpha and omega—the beginning and end of all things.

The coming of Jesus also made it possible for God to be with all like never before. Prior to this, people of God had contact with God through indirect means (via a priest or a prophet) but Jesus’ earthly life was all about God making direct contact with humanity—with a particular emphasis the least, the last, and the lost of his day.  Jesus immerses us in the reality of our “God-breathed world[2]”.  Through Jesus, many ordinary people experienced God’s amazing grace and love and went on to share the message with others long after Jesus was no longer physically present.  Jesus also lived the content of his “curriculum”.  He modeled his mission, embodying the present availability of Kingdom of God for all.

N.T. Wright says that Jesus came to “put the world right”.  Marcus Borg called it the “great restoration project”, which began with Jesus’ birth, continued during his life, entered into a new phase after the resurrection that continues to the present day—and will someday be finished when Christ comes again.  

During Advent, then, we remember when ancient people anticipated Christ’s coming to be with them, we celebrate that Christ is with us today, and we anticipate and hope for that day when Christ comes again.  Perhaps during this season it is appropriate to expand the familiar recitation from our Communion ritual to say: 
Christ was born… Christ has died… Christ is risen… Christ will come again!
Every gift we will receive under our Christmas tree this year will eventually fade and decay, but Paul says that faith, hope and love are gifts that endure, and the greatest of these is love. 

Jesus shows us that God’s love never fails and that God will go to the ends of the earth to be there with all




[1] Sweet develops be there for all in the context of United Methodism.  See Chapters 3 and 4 of The Greatest Story Never Told: Revive Us Again.
[2] This phrase comes from Dallas Willard.  See Divine Conspiracy, Chapter 3.