December 21, 2017

Advent 2017

"The Human Condition"

For I the Lord do not change. (Malachi 3:6a)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

I grew up in a household where the Old Testament was read and loved along with the New Testament. My father was, after all, an Old Testament professor. In our family there was no distinction between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. We worshipped the same God Abraham and Paul worshiped. The One who created us became human for us - no distinction.

Christians believe the birth of Jesus changed the world. Jesus certainly turned Mary and Joseph's world upside down. The same was true for his twelve disciples and other followers. The witness of the church throughout history is that Jesus continues to turn the world upside down for individuals, communities, even nations. Everything changed when God came and lived among us. The question I've been grappling with, however, is this - how was God changed by the birth of Jesus?

There is something very comforting and secure in believing that God does not change. We know what to expect. We know what to believe. But what if becoming human forged a change even God didn't anticipate? Creator God embraced a kind of self-limitation in choosing to give human beings free will; God doesn't control how we choose to live our lives. Incarnate God experienced a different kind of limitation - the kind all of us experience. Being corporeal imposes certain limitations, especially for a God who could do all things.

Being human gave God a whole new perspective on life experiences: helplessness, complete reliance on another person, the kindness of friends and strangers, the threat of physical harm, moving to another city without being consulted, hunger, loneliness, physical pain, learning how to communicate, frustration, learning to read and write and add, the comfort of human touch, the wonder of seeds blossoming into flowers, the smell of fresh baked bread, betrayal, anger, the struggle with temptation, death. The human condition encompasses so much that God had never experienced firsthand until Jesus walked on this earth.

Jesus' life and ministry give us a more complete understanding of who God is. Jesus' life and ministry give God a more complete understanding of who we are. God who experienced human limitations knows what it means to want to step away from God's desires and vision of how things should be. There is something comforting and secure in knowing that God understands this inclination and continues to call us anyway.

So I contemplate the question, because how could God not have been changed by becoming human? God who from before creation has always loved and cherished humanity now relates to us as one who has joined us in this messy life and understands what it means to be fully human with all its triumphs and failings. The One who created us became human for us - no distinction - and that has made all the difference in the world.

-- Gaye Rountree

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