I have marvelled at my doubt.
I am going through one of my phases where I feel extremely disappointed by organized religion. Like Michael Jinkins, in Called to Be Human, I don’t understand what spiritual means any more than I understand what it means to be religious — but I know that today they are a pale imitation of what they should be, could be and this must grieve God. It is almost an insult to be called “religious” today whereas “spiritual” can mean almost anything and is somehow in its inclusivity found to be admirable.
“Faith is a matter of trust and reverence more than it is a matter of beliefs and belief systems. This is not to say that beliefs are irrelevant. It matters a great deal whom you trust and what you hold sacred. But the older I get, the more I see that life is mystery and the less certainty I possess. I take more of life on faith. I trust a lot more than I know. So my beliefs have become increasingly modest in their claims while they have become more extravagant in their hopes.”
When troubles come, when I am still, when I feel most devastated by this life, deep inside I know that the Babe of Christmas is real.
The Babe of the incarnation is not anything to do with sentimentality and materialism. Though my whole being is crushed by this season and though it is too strong to say that I hate Christmas — what it has become — My heart and soul are dragged down this time of year. And I know with certainty that I lack the courage to do something different with it.
I am no longer a child — the wonder of the season is gone.
I am so disenchanted by it all that I have trouble relishing “the silent and holy night, the sweet and heavenly peace” that the song speaks of. The Creator God entered into creation which is totally wrecked by our sin and He doesn’t hate nor is he disgusted by you and me, rather God takes our inconsistency, and selfishness and betrayal — the mess of our human heart and what we have done to this season — and by becoming the Babe he took it all.
That I can believe.
Christmas can be — Advent should be — about that recovery of our hearts. But it is so difficult and intangible if we cannot slow down our spiritually corrupt minds and souls and be conscious of the mysterious and ancient ways of experiencing time and place in the spiritual realm.
Advent, in the high church, was meant to begin the sacred year because it begins with anticipating the Babe. The Church also uses the act of remembering those Saints whose lives are an example to us all. For me, it is easy to look at those throughout history who were Saints and Martyrs of the church and believe. The act of remembering, through liturgy and worship whether corporate or in isolation, is beautiful and sweet. But it is the actions we take — today, now — “the physical gestures, prayers, or other customs — that make faith a tangible presence.” This is the Babe — the incarnation — this is why we offer our worship.
Advent is the time when we prepare for the mystery of the Babe — the arrival of God with us — God incarnate. My heart wrestles with the truth as my actions seem to do something else. It’s relentless — the gluttony of the Thanksgiving meal, then the shopping, endless carols playing on every radio, the searching for “happy” — that at a certain point I shut down.
And that is where I find myself today.
Advent seems that is should be more solemn, a time of anticipating. The mystery and miracle of Christmas is the Babe’s birth. We are challenged to be winnowing and sifting in our heart and preparing ourselves for when He comes. And it becomes clear that we are simply searching for God in all of our flurry and activity.
Almost a thousand years ago, St. Anselm of Canterbury said:
“God is that greater than which cannot be thought.”
God is Inconceivable. Incomprehensible. Unbelievable. That is our God. That is (perhaps) why God came in the form of the Babe — Immanuel, which means “God with us.” As I sit here wrestling with the truth that I have to work to find him, God is here. With us. Searching for us, some say. God is not lost. We have become lost — so distracted by the eating and drinking and shopping and giving and receiving, the singing and serving — lost by it all.
Advent means coming. Christ came. Christ comes. Christ will come again. In this Advent season, as we search for the Babe, we only need to understand more fully what that means. “God is enfleshed in our humanity.”
We only need to wake up and receive the gift that is already given, the fact that we are found by Emmanuel, God with us.
Called to Be Human: LETTERS TO MY CHILDREN ON LIVING A CHRISTIAN LIFE, Michael Jinkins.
GOD WITH US: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, authored by Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris, Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw. Edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe.