Advent is about waiting for the coming of the Christ, but what difference does this coming really make?
Before the coming of Jesus, the Hebrews knew that God loved them. They knew that God forgave sins and that God took up the cause of the marginalized and despised.
They knew that God was to them as a nurturing mother and a guiding father and that faith could open the door to new life. The words and ministry of Jesus rung of things they already knew.
Yet, the writer of John gushes that being told about it and seeing it were not at all the same thing. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Embodying something is very different than simply relating it. Jesus embodied the story the prophets had long been telling, and the writer of John wants us to know that made an incredible difference.
The writer of Hebrews also notes the qualitative difference between being told and actually experiencing. “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:1-3a).
This not just a difference of degree; this is a difference of kind.
In the coming of the Christ child, it was not just that previous things were made clearer; they took on an unprecedented power when embodied in Jesus. People noticed this.
The crowds were amazed at the teaching of Jesus; he spoke as one having authority and not as their religious leaders, who presumably had a lot to say but did not have an aura of authenticity (Matthew 7:28-29).
The crowds noticed the qualitative difference between those who related the story and the one who actually embodied that story.
We call this narrative leadership. Jesus became what he talked about; he lived the story he told. Another word for this is incarnation.
It was a beautiful thing to experience; the writer of John wants us to know that.
During Advent, we reflect upon the moment when the story of God’s love went from being related to us to actually being embodied among us. This comes as a challenge to us.
We too are to engage in narrative leadership among our neighbors, families, friends and churches. We are to embody this story that has so captured us.
We become what we are talking about and show people what it looks like. We make the story of God’s love in Christ our lived story.
Advent is about our leaving behind our old stories and giving ourselves to the only story that in the end really matters.
Jim Kelsey is executive minister of the American Baptist Churches-New York State.