An Advent Meditation
By Gerald Sittser, Professor of Theology

The Apostles Creed sounds this mysterious note for the Christmas season:
"Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary...”

Mary was raised on the stories of the O.T. That an angel had appeared would not have been so surprising; the surprise, of course, is that the angel had appeared to her. There had been other angelic visitations, and other miraculous births. In the ancient world, fertility cults practiced certain rites and rituals, sometimes called “sympathetic magic,” that were intended to keep the laws of nature going so that the world would continue to operate according to need and expectation. The assumption was that salvation consists of maintaining the cycle of the natural world, its predictability and fecundity and order. But biblical faith is different. Mary knew that God could and sometimes did interrupt and intervene and even overrule the natural order of creation to do something greater, for salvation consists of God’s redemptive work in history. God had acted before. There were other miraculous visitations and pregnancies, like Sarah’s and Hannah’s and Elizabeth’s. God did what was impossible and inconceivable; he got involved in history to push forward his redemptive plan. But there’s more to it than that. God worked through people, too; their very human choices and actions also played a role. They also contributed to the advancement of salvation history; they were part of the story. Mary provides a good example when she says, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Salvation might come from the outside, but not at the exclusion of the inside. Outside joins with inside; divine intersects with human; the spiritual envelops the material. This is heaven and earth working together.

Gabriel said to Mary, “with God nothing will be impossible.” What is impossible for us, impossible even in our imaginations, is possible with God because God is different from what we imagine. God comes to us, the Son is born as Jesus Christ. All this is true, all this happened, because God LOVES US. Celsus’ god does not love; the god of nature does not love. The God of the Bible does. He loves fiercely and extravagantly.

Ponder this: the glorious, terrifying condescension of the divine splendor and greatness, the Son of God. Big becomes little; power becomes weakness; rich becomes poor; wise becomes foolish. Providence chooses personhood; power embraces pain; sovereignty gives way to suffering. “...though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” It is as if all the light of the universe — galaxy upon galaxy of blazing brightness — is reduced to the radiance of one candle without suffering any diminution, without becoming less than it was before. It is as if all the weight of the universe is reduced to the lightness of a feather, light enough to tickle the palm of your hand, without becoming less heavy than it was before. The divine light and weight become hidden and concealed. The Son of God becomes an embryo, and nine months later is born in a stable. Perfectly, bloodily, painfully human. But no less divine than before.

Come with me to the court of heaven where, as expressed in the ancient hymn, the host of heaven witnesses the breathtaking condescension and contraction of the divine Son of God.

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture, in the body and the blood.
He will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the light of Light descendeth from the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six-winged seraph; cherubim, with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence, as with ceaseless voice they cry,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Left to our own imaginations, we fashion a god with more brains than we have, more brawn, more power, more magic, more of something we are and think God would be, should he come to us. The best of human... plus more. But in the incarnation, God becomes less — weak and foolish and powerless — for our sake.

Nothing will be impossible with God. “Nothing” because of who God is, a God of fierce and extravagant love. Fierce and extravagant love for you and me. It is all a little unnerving and terrifying, once you ponder it.