Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advent 2012



When I first heard "Some Children See Him," I was not in a candlelit sanctuary or surrounded by Chrismon trees and red poinsettias.  I was not in the midst of Advent; nor was I thinking about shepherds, the city of David, or the birth of Christ.  I was in an auditorium, surrounded by teenagers, in June - about as far from December as one can be on the calendar.  At Passport Youth Camp that summer, the theme was "Free for All," and the message our staff conveyed was that God's grace and Christ's love were indeed free, for everyone.  No amount of failure, no sum of setbacks or do-overs could separate anyone from what God had to offer through Christ.

During worship one evening, we played a video about the water crisis in Malawi and emphasized that God's free-for-all love traveled to all parts of the globe, not just the places familiar to us.  As pictures of desiccated fields and alarming statistics filled the screen, the voice of James Taylor softly sang, "The children in each different place will see the baby Jesus' face like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace, and filled with holy light."  While a carol about Jesus' birth was not what I expected in that moment, it spoke a deep truth - and added a critical caveat to our summer's theme.

When we accept that God's love is for us, given freely and fully, we have a tendency to then define God and God's love in our own terms.  As the earlier verses of this carol say:  "Some children see him lily white [...] some children see him bronzed and brown [...] some children see him almond-eyed [...] some children see him dark as they."  We like to make God into our image, instead of acknowledging we are made in God's.  We give God our thoughts, desires, dreams, and ambitions.  We bestow upon God our political leanings, our societal prejudices, our priorities, and even our sports teams.  God is not only for us, God is us...that is our temptation.

Whether we see the baby Jesus as lily white, bronzed and brown, or almond-eyed, we cannot allow that image to lead to an infantile understanding of what God's love is.  Because the Jesus we create for us is not necessarily the one who was sent to us.  The Jesus we want is not necessarily the Jesus we need.  And the love that was born is not the love we would design or fully understand, but it is the love we receive and it is exactly what we need.

So perhaps it is appropriate I first heard this carol in an unexpected place at an unexpected time, for that is what God's love is...unexpected and not what we would have designed, but exactly what we need when we need it.  The final words of this carol sing, "O lay aside each earthly thing and with thy heart as offering, come worship now the infant King.  'Tis love that's born tonight!"  So this Christmas, may we rejoice that real love was born, precisely for us, and that it was not created in our image, but God's.

- Lauren Colwell


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