by Ricky Chelette, Executive Director
Unpack the decorations, prepare the pageant schedules, and research holiday bible studies, Christmas is once again upon us. Although it can be easy to become lost in all the holiday preparations, the centuries old tradition of Advent helps to prepare us—with great anticipation—to celebrate the coming of our savior, Jesus.
However, for some Christians, Advent—or the weeks of spiritual reflection leading up to Christmas day—can simply become part of the seasonal rhythm. As a result, we often think little of the wonder of what happened on that day in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago. Though we often depict the event with great fanfare, major pageantry, and lots of glitz and glamour, the occasion was likely not anything like our portrayals. Despite the austere setting, this one moment when God took on human form literally changed everything, for every person, from the first day of creation to the end of time.
While on a recent trip to Italy with my wife, I was struck with a new appreciation for this personal component of the advent. As we entered grand cathedrals and basilicas hundreds of years old, I was in awe of their grandeur, splendor, and beauty; however, I was equally perplexed by how the architects felt that their creation represented the God of the Bible. In every church we visited, the altar was always separated from the people, seemingly “off limits” to common man. Priests, nuns, and other clergy might have access to such “holy places,” but the common man or women simply entering the church could only look longingly at these “holy spots” from afar.
I must admit, I love the grandeur of these bigger-than-life churches. The architecture, the craftsmanship, the attention to detail, the beautiful narrative of divinity revealed in every nook and cranny, stirs my affections for my God. I sense the awe and wonder of the greatness of our God in such places, a greatness and magnificence that is often not seen in modern churches. Yet, I simultaneously sensed the separation that the room communicated. I even felt a bit of fear and mystery about a God who was ultimately unknowable and unapproachable. Unfortunately, I think that is how many people view God. However, Christmas shows us something very different.
Luke records the announcement of Jesus’ arrival by the angels when he writes, “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the City of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’” (Luke 2:10-12, ESV)
Do you see the beauty of this revelation? Unlike every other religion in the world, our God does not remove Himself from His people, nor remain inattentive to their needs, hurts, pains, and desires. Because of the work of Jesus on our behalf, God is not walled off behind some gate, or removed from us on some distant altar. He came, instead, as a little, helpless, completely dependent infant. Is there any more beautiful and approachable human than an infant? No one is threatened by an infant, endangered by an infant, or refused by an infant. Infants draw people to them with utter innocence, beauty, and vulnerability. They bid the world, “come, draw near!”
The message of Christmas is that the God of the cosmos “made his dwelling among us.” Our God is approachable. He wants to dwell in the hearts and lives of those who will trust in His work on the cross, those that know He has reconciled them to Himself through the sacrifice of Christ.
If you think God is aloof to your needs, unaware of your hurts and desires, or far too concerned with the cosmos to be interested in you, Christmas comes as a great reminder that the God we worship is near. He is waiting for you. He is as approachable as that baby Jesus born not in a castle, but a manger. He is not removed from our life; He dwells among us. He is not distant, but near. He is Jesus. God with us.
Take advantage of Advent to reflect on how you are experiencing Jesus. Do you feel He is with you? Have you given thought to him as an infant? He is waiting, ready and able to help you with grace and mercy in your time of need.