I was traveling recently through a town in the Midwest with a minister friend. I noticed Christmas decorations hung from every lamp post and the symbols of Christmas everywhere. I said to my host, “Don’t you think you are starting Christmas a little early”? He replied: “Maybe. But our Chamber of Commerce is just crazy about that Christ-child”!
Once upon a time the church ushered in the Advent season – but no longer. This is now done by the merchants and others before Thanksgiving – or Halloween – is here.
However, for the time of Advent is before Christmas. During this time the church seeks to devote itself to the preparation for a festival of joy, wonder and love over the birth of our Savior. In music and prayer, sermon and work, and in church and home, we are preparing to celebrate the love of God that comes to us in such radiance in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
The very word, Advent, means the meeting of God and man in Christ. Actually, in the New Testament stories of Advent we see a dual approach: God approaching man; man approaching God. The stories in Matthew and Luke echo to the footsteps of the seeking God and the seeking man, who find each other in Jesus Christ. The traditions of the Annunciation, the heavens opening and angelic choruses announcing the advent of God, tell us of the seeking God. The awestruck shepherds and the searching Wise Men tell us of the seeking man.
And the entire New Testament rings with the glorious affirmation they found each other in Jesus Christ. What God did is the supreme expression of man’s love for God.
Thus, from the very beginning, the dominant chord in the Christian Gospel is the conviction that God is love.
The claim that God is love, when first advanced, was stared at in unbelief. It is primarily proclaimed by the Psalms, Hosea and Isaiah celebrate it in the Old Testament. It is hard for us – living almost 2,000 years later, and having been surrounded from infancy with stories of the love of God – to appreciate the truly revolutionary change the notion that God is love fully demonstrated in the Incarnation brought into the lives of ordinary people in the first century.
Their lot was hard with poverty, war and disease playing tag through their daily existence. The dominant religions held either to an impersonal universe or a stern deity whose only concern was Righteousness, with a capital R. No wonder they regarded the Christian Gospel as the creation of impossible fanatics. Who but a fanatic would think that God is love?
“God is love” is still hard to grasp in its impact on human life and affairs. It set in motion the most comprehensive and fundamental revolution imaginable. Where will greater wonder be found that in the Incarnation? God’s love manifested in the coming of Jesus. I wonder that the great God of creation would stoop so low; that He would take upon himself our frail and fragile form. I wonder that God would reveal Himself through a man like me and address men through a voice like mine. In a sense the most startling thing Jesus ever said was: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Let me end with an exclamation of wonder by one Thomas a Kempis, who was always moved by the mere thought of Jesus Christ: “O unspeakable grace! O wondrous condescension! O unmeasurable love bestowed on man”!