[This is Part 2. Read Part 1 here.]
My church has been doing a series called “The Other Christmas Stories” where we’ve been going through other texts in the Bible that comment on and meditate upon the event of Advent. The first message was preached on that quintessential Advent text, John 1. The preaching on these verses really struck me:
But as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
— John 1:12-13
The sermon went on to remind us that in these verses is a promise that the Advent did not happen in order to make us into something we are not, but rather to give us the power to become who we most truly are (children of God). Now, I want to be clear. I grew up in Church hearing that phrase “be who you are” (and hearing it in music), and in certain seasons that thought has been helpful to me, but I’m not quite trying to express the same sentiment.
Usually this idea is trying to say, more accurately, “be who you have now been saved to be” or “be who Jesus has changed you to be” or “be like Jesus, whose identity is yours”. In other words, the logic goes that you were originally one way, then Jesus “saved” you, and now you are able to be something else (a holy, loved Christian), now that you are Christ’s.
What this sermon got me thinking about–and what has helped me so deeply–was that Jesus did not come to make us “new” per se, but to make us most truly who we actually have been all along; to bring about the rule and reign of the King under whose authority we are most free to become–not something else, but–who we are apart from the self-disfuguring effects of sin.
And so this encouraged me by letting me see that as I am growing and changing as a Christian, this is not me becoming “Christ-like” as we usually think of it. It’s not that I am growing “upward” towards becoming more like this amazing “super”-human that always seems to be out of my reach.
No, in Advent, we see that God is not “above us” demanding I be like Him, but he has come down and taken on humanity as it was meant to and can be lived. And so to be “Christ-like” is, essentially, to be more human, not less.
And so as I grow in obedience and holiness, I’m not simply acting out Jesus’ righteousness in my own life (as it has sometimes been articulated). I am actually doing things as the freed, truly human person that I am. I am actually freely doing these things. I am actually doing things that please God! I am actually his child whom He likes and enjoys! Just as part of my favorite quote says:
God does not ‘tolerate’ me. God loves me.
To be “Christ-like”, then, is to be the fully human person whose self is fully infused with the divine, and then live in light of this. As I said in another Advent post, this process is not one of becoming “super-natural”, but rather leaving our “sub-natural” ways and being freed to live most “naturally” in the Kingdom of the World as God has intended.
This means that God loves and likes us as we live and move and breathe and screw up under the gracious and loving rule of His Kingdom. He delights in us. He does not see right past us or through us. He respects us with the dignity owed to the highest of creation–those made in his image.
I’ve begun to finally feel those opening words of that amazing Christmas song:
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth.
And so begins the slow travail of pressing these truths all the more into my heart and life. These intellectual ponderings have encouraged me so deeply, though much work remains to have the rest of me believe it and live in light of it.
But God has come, and God has spoken, to help me with this. And so I will leave you with these verses that stirred me so much in light of these things. They were posted at the bottom of a very dear new friend’s blog (that you should read):
You can hassle me continually with your prayers, clamoring for attention night and day, and I will always be there because I love you. You can scream in my face in fear and frustration and I will rock you in my arms until you rest. You may even soil me with the filth of your sin and I will still cherish you, I will still see your perfection and declare relentlessly to the angels around that you, my child, are mine. I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have drawn you with loving-kindness…I will take great delight in you, I will quiet you with my love, I will rejoice over you with singing…you are mine.
–Jer 31:3, Zeph 3:17, Is 43:1
I love that so much. This is our God. This is our Lord and King. This is Advent. And so…
A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night, O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night, O night divine!