This weekend is the first Sunday of Advent. We sang some advent songs. That was awesome. Mine isn’t a liturgical church–it’s more of a Modern one–so there’s not too much attention given to the Church Calendar except the biggies like Christmas and Easter. I like liturgy and The Calendar, so I like it that Advent gets some attention.
One of the songs we sang was “Angels From the Realms of Glory.” But someone had changed the words. Rather than singing “Come and Worship Christ the newborn King” we sang “Come and Worship Christ the coming King.” Well, I didn’t sing that. I stuck to the real lyrics, not out of stubbornness; each time we got to the line, I was already halfway through the familiar, so I just forged ahead.
I wondered why we changed this phrase. It’s obviously a shift in focus from the Incarnation to The Second Coming. The verses of the song are about the Bethlehem story, so perhaps the lyric-alterer wants to generate some relevance for the modern worshiper by also anticipating Christ’s future coming. Maybe he thought this made the hymn a little more well-rounded. This argument for breadth makes some sense, but if we sing about everything, aren’t we in danger of singing about nothing.
My view is that there is much to be gained by a focus on the Incarnation during the season in which we remember it.
The Incarnation Should Be The Focus
Advent celebrates the coming of Jesus into the world, when God takes human form. We Modern, Western Christians often fail to fully grasp the significance of the Incarnation. The ancient Hebrew faith was unique in that there was one God and he was outside creation. He seemed to have a priority of being with his people, first as a pillar of fire over the Tabernacle and later in the Temple, but his holiness made approaching him problematic. In the Incarnation, a wholly transcendent God took on flesh–he became one of us. This is remarkable. It redefines our relationship to God. He’s accessible and present. At it’s most basic, the Incarnation means that God is with us–Emmanuel, which has been his object all along. The incarnation also reminds us of human value; when God takes on flesh and remains enfleshed, he’s telling us a little about his views on flesh.
Human beings were special in creation–we were made in the Image of God. The Fall was a result of humanity choosing to become like God. Why? The serpent told Eve that if she ate the fruit, she would become like God. The Fall was a result of not believing we were good enough–we wanted more, forgetting it was something we already had–the most elevated state possible–we were God’s Image Bearers. In a real sense, the first sin was a rejection of human significance. The Incarnation counters this lie and is an affirmation of our inherent value. Something we naturally forget–to our peril.
In service yesterday, we also celebrated Communion. We were reminded that it is a meal of unity–the officiant was referring to the relationship between believers; he invoked us to restore relationships before participating. It is, of course, a meal of unity in another sense, the vertical one. While the elements were distributed, I was meditating on the Eucharist as a celebration of the Incarnation. The unity between spirit and flesh, between transcendence and immanence, are there in the elements. The transcendent God meets his Image Bearers in the physical elements of bread and wine. Like the Incarnation, communion contains God’s gesture of Grace toward humanity.
Humanity Under Threat
There are tremendous forces loosed upon the world that are degrading human value at every point. Contemporary idols, Choice, Freedom, Ease and Pleasure demand human sacrifice upon their alters. Politicians continue to insist on hierarchies and institutions suppress dialogue. Posthuman ideas whisper into our ears, as did the serpent in the garden so long ago–human beings are not special. And don’t get me started on the dehumanization of social media. We need every reminder as to our position in creation and the value conferred upon us by our creator. We need to be reminded of our Hope.
So, at least for these weeks in December, let us worship the newborn king.