Ready for the Incarnation
We went to New York City last week. We usually journey there the first week of December. Two of our three adult kids and spouses are there, as well as a running race in Central Park, museums, great food, bookstores and…well, New York at Christmas. We love it.
One of my required stops is always the Morgan Library (think financier J.P. Morgan, a gigantic library, art collection and museum). Each December, among other things, I have to see THE original manuscript of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Each year they turn one, and only one, page. This year, the Morgan also had a fascinating exhibition upstairs of the collaboration between the artist Ashley Bryan and the poet Langston Hughes.
Hughes has long been one of my favorites. As I perused his poetry on display, I remembered one I quoted just a few weeks ago, which has become for me an appropriate introduction to Advent:
I am so tired of waiting,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two–
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.
I’m right there. Aren’t you? With the news mired in war, violence, political upheaval and vitriolic public discourse, it’s so easy to get worn down. Even in this Advent and Christmas season, where is the “good and beautiful and kind?” Hughes’ poem points out what is painfully obvious to followers of Jesus–something is eating at this world, and us. Things are not the way they were meant to be. Oddly enough, I think this is exactly where we need to start in order to both experience the wonder of the Incarnation, and to lead well in this month. That order is important–it’s hard to go tell it on the mountain, or lead others to the stable if you are just going through motions. Only as we experience wonder, are we then propelled toward faith and creativity that spills out for others. And that requires…coming to terms with what is eating at the rind. The worms.
There are many Christian critics berating the culture currently over the shallowness of the “secular” version of Christmas, and rightly so. But are followers of Jesus simply acting out their own version of a short-on-real-meaning celebration? We can dismiss Santa, materialism and the Grinch readily enough. But what are we holding up?
Do we have good news? The most important question about the Incarnation may be–Why? Why here? Why us? Why did God act, and act in the way he did?
Here’s what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in a December 2, 1928 sermon in Barcelona:“The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”
Good Lord, yes. How is the Lord’s coming good news unless we need it? Unless we know we need it? Freedom for captives, sight for blind, forgiveness of sins can only be celebrated if we know we are bound up, unseeing and full of inequity. Is the world a wreck? Unquestionably. The human experiment looks bleak right now. God’s people are struggling alongside everyone else, and yet their eyes are looking, searching, hoping, anticipating something greater to come. Insofar as we understand our need for that something greater, Advent and Christmas are truly celebrations.
So here’s my thought. No matter where you might be reading this…stop for a moment right now. Turn your mind and heart to the Lord, and tell him in great detail how, and how much, you need him. Include these words: “Lord, I need you…” Once you do this…I think you might be ready to celebrate the Incarnation.
Peace of Christ, friends!
Dan Baumgartner is the senior pastor at The Cove in Santa Rosa CA and serves as Secretary on The Fellowship Community Board.