Today marks the fourth and final Sunday in Advent—the season in the Church calendar where we wait, with great hope and anticipation, for the coming of Jesus to earth, both as fully God and fully human. To close our Advent series, President McNeil calls us to remember the importance of embodying Jesus Christ in our relationships.
When I was about six years old, I can remember sitting on the front row of Holy Trinity Baptist Church in Philadelphia next to my father. He was a deacon in the Church and it was his usual place to be seated up front. However, for some reason I was seated with him. I normally sat with my sister and mother on the second row, off to the right of the pulpit, underneath the stain glass windows. But on this Sunday, I was on the front row, slightly fidgety and playing with toys and drawing to hold my attention.
At some point during the service I looked up from my play, the way kids do to check on their parents, and I saw his face. My father was crying. Something in the service moved him and he began to weep quietly. I was fixed on his face, I had never seen him cry like this. I could tell these were not just joyful tears, but a sorrow released. I remember wanting him to compose himself, but at the same time I had never seen this deeply into who he was. He seemed so willing to let tears come, to reveal how much he needed G-d in that moment.
I didn’t ask anything, but I remember moving away from him, the way you move to avoid an awkward situation. I’d never seen him cry and the vulnerability made me feel a bit unsure. Eventually, he took out his white handkerchief, wiped his eyes and nose and returned to being the man I knew. I don’t remember the rest of the service, but I will never forget this moment with him. In no other spaces of our life together had I seen him this open. I knew of his sense of duty, but not of his devotion. G-d was important to him and he felt safe enough that he could bring his humanness to G-d and know he would not be shamed.
At times this is the way I hold G-d, much in the way I reacted to my father’s vulnerability. I desire to experience the love of G-d in the humanity of Jesus, but I still at times resist the accessibility of the incarnation. G-d enters the world through Jesus as a child, vulnerable and quite human. The idea that Jesus was “born of a woman” speaks to His humanity, and in this embodied form, differed from us only in that he knew no sin. It has become easy to dismiss the humanity of Jesus for His divine attributes, but this only serves to put G-d out of reach psychologically and emotionally; to make Him an outsider to our experience. You see, it is in this accessibility of weakness that G-d reveals the invitation to belong, not just to Him, but to each other. G-d discards omnipotence to dwell in human flesh, to be touched and touch, to be held and known. G-d is not here fully human as a threat, not here as the Son to condemn, but to join, and to make us family anew.
Advent is an invitation to move towards G-d and to be moved by a G-d who is with us, who is active in human affairs. I first learned of G-d through the vulnerability and devotion of my father. It was not something I understood at this early age, nor accepted as my own until years later, but I saw in him what it meant to belong to Jesus.
In this season, may we find the safety to accept the proximity of G-d and the courage to embrace the healing intimacy of belonging—to G-d and to each other.