Did you know that Advent is the official start of the church liturgical year? What an odd choice. We’re used to thinking about fiscal years starting in July, calendar years starting in January, school years starting in September…why can’t the church year be aligned with the rest of the world and make it easy to remember?
But what if the Church aligned itself with the world and its rhythms? It might also decide to align itself with its whims, and there’s tons of stories about that in the Bible when the Kings in the Old Testament tried to align God with their wants. It didn’t work out too well. God just can’t be controlled, or if you’ve attended one of my sermons the last few years, you’ve heard me say, “It’s bigger than that”.
And I think that’s a good thing for our hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits. To have a God that is unbounded, unlimited, and not able to be controlled by any one person, group, nation, people, or idea. We spend our entire lives falling into cultural expectations, and they shape our thinking and our actions in the world. And our culture tells us we can do quite a bit by ourselves, for we have discovered many things about our bodies, our world, and our cosmos through knowledge and exploration. We have a need to explain and understand, so that we can think and reason through problems and experiments in the present and plans and strategies for the future. We are tactical people, living the right now through that lens – if I do a certain action, then the outcome will be predictable. We like that.
But that’s not God. God is not a transaction to be leveled, controlled, experimented with, or predicted. God isn’t interested in equations of “if you do this for me, then I’ll do this for you”. What then, does God want? It’s as old as the Bible itself. God wants, and seeks, us. God wants creation, what was given life, to come back and understand that love is the only certainty there is, because it’s what created us in the first place. There is no life without love. And there is no transaction for love – it is freely given outward, without expectation, we simply experience it and are either warmed by it or confused in receiving it, but there is no way to quantify a payback or give a timetable on its return. It just…is. God is described in those terms, “The Great I Am.”
And so a small child comes unto us this month, and if we were aware that this child was God and were standing in the manger, our modern selves might make all kinds of predictions, enroll Jesus in the best pre-K, teach Jesus music and art and have Jesus join the traveling soccer team to try and make Jesus ready to be the King. But the shepherds knew better. They knew Jesus was bigger than that, even as a tiny baby. They were ready for the unbounded, unlimited God that would grow in body and wisdom and teach all of us what it meant to be part of God’s great prophecy, legacy, and realm. They knew all that was required was that they love the child, because the child would grow to love them more than they could ever know. And that is the miracle of relationship, and perhaps why God insists on making December 1 just a little inconvenient. Not so we can think, plan, and control. But feel…love.