All last week, I offered some meditations on this season of Advent. I actually have several more I’ll be posting more or less every day until Christmas, but today I’ll be offering the last in this little alliterated series in which we’ve been exploring how in the Advent event, Jesus took on our creaturely form, care-taking function, comprehensive fallenness, and now, communal formation.
We spend a lot of time and energy in this season focusing on how Jesus has changed everything and how the implications of Advent change much of our lives and existences. But Jesus did not merely come to change and affect things, but to also be changed and affected by them.
Jesus came to form a people that would essentially be his own Body joined to his own Life in this world. And so, he allowed his own Body to literally be formed and shaped by the same things he wanted his ongoing Body to be formed and shaped by. There’s a certain “shape” to his life that is meant to mark our own.
So what shaped Jesus?
Community. From the earliest accounts of his life, there is a constant presence of God’s people in Jesus’ life. From Simeon’s song to teaching in the temple when he was young to his own disciples, Jesus found himself very much at home immersed in the teachings, writings, customs, and thinking of the people of God. Yes, he came to protest, fulfill, and subvert many of those things, but he did this more as a wounded lover than an angry outsider.
The Body of Christ is one that lives life deeply with one another and lets that shared, painful, and beautiful life have comprehensive effects on its identity and actions.
Prayer and meditation. The more someone engages in prayer and meditation, the more it takes on an almost “outside” character. There is a sense that it is something more done to you rather than something you do.
The very subjective and subtle interplay between humanity and the Holy Spirit–that longing for communion with the Father and the frustration and angst when it is not there–were all things that Jesus felt deeply and let shape him. You cannot “make” God engage with you at a constant intense level. It waxes and wanes. It’s done to you at the whim and wisdom of Another.
The Body of Christ is one that lets the Spirit and Presence of God impact it in dramatic ways and responds to the sovereign movements of that Spirit.
Emotions. Jesus was a very emotional man and did not hide it. Emotions happen to us and form us. They shape how we move and live and act and love and rebuke and worship. They change us and surprise us and tell us who we are. Jesus was formed by this.
The Body of Christ is one that feels deeply for one another and responds honestly and fully to the world around it, and it lets this change them.
Suffering. Jesus very literally made his Body a wounded one. The word “compassion” means “to suffer with”, and this is what Jesus did so truly. He inhabited the “shape” of a suffering world and took on that shape. Even after he is resurrected, he still bears the scars of his crucifixion; for eternity his Body will bear the marks of having been wounded by his own creation. We are not above our Master.
The Body of Christ is one that is broken and branded and wounded by the world and for the world.
That list is not in the least comprehensive, and it admittedly leans a little towards the more melancholy things of life, to be sure. But nevertheless, these are all things that God has incorporated into the forming and shaping of His Body.
If he had not Advented and allowed these things to shape him, then being joined to him could be seen as an escape from these things. But this isn’t the case. In fact, being joined to Jesus, is actually being bound all the more into the the way reality is shaped. In Advent, God communes with his creation in a dynamic, synergistic way.
And so, as we move and live within this Advent season, and things come at us in ways that cannot but change, scar, and form us, may we learn to receive these things as those that have been joined to a Christ who has made these things necessary and normal parts of forming his people.
“The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!”
–O Holy Night
[image credit: “Church” by John Singer Sargent. (More on this piece)]