By Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline
Normally I would say it’s a bad thing to be condescending. I know that when I’ve been called that, it hasn’t necessarily been a compliment.
But, as with most things, God turned the idea completely on its head. Emmanuel, God with us, was the subject of last Sunday’s worship service, and what a beautiful idea it is. God with us. Like, really actually with us. The Westminster Confession of Faith (A long and old document that helped define what the Presbyterian Church believes) said that “the distance between God and the creature," meaning us, "is so great” that we wouldn’t have the kind of relationship we have with him except “by some voluntary condescension on God’s part” (Book of Confessions 6.037). First of all, I don’t like being called a creature. Second of all, I love the use of the word "condescension," which if you look at the root of it really translates to "go down with."
God’s condescension is such a beautiful thing because it gives us a vision of who God is, while simultaneously reinforcing the image of God that we see in each other. Saint Oscar Romero wrote in December of 1978:
If Christ had become incarnate now and were a thirty year old man today, he could be here in the cathedral and we wouldn’t know him from the rest of you - a thirty-year old man, a peasant from Nazareth, here in the cathedral like any peasant from our countryside. The Son of God made flesh would be here and we wouldn’t know him - one completely like us.
When God looks like us, then we can see God in one another. When God could be anyone, and in fact was just some person, then how can we do anything other than try to see that same Jesus in our neighbors? God with us means that God became one of us.
Hebrews 13:2 says “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." We care about each other because we know that God lives in each one of us, and that (for a time) God was one of us.
The beauty of God with us is in the majesty and pomp of his birth. The Holy Spirit, the annunciation, the angels, the magi, the star. All of those things speak to the grandeur of God’s incarnation. But the heart of God with us is found in the ways that his birth echoed the mundanity of human life ... in the humiliation of the circumstances, and the plain shepherds and animals that attended. The grandeur speaks to God’s amazing presence with us, but the mundanity speaks to God’s humbling condescension.
Christmas is coming! Very soon! And I don’t want you to be condescending to your friends and family, but remember that God’s condescension gives us a reminder to love each other because Christ became one of us.
This is my last blog of Advent, and I’m planning on continuing this blog for the time being. Look for the next post on January 5th. But I find there’s no more fitting way to end this than another prayer by St. Romero from December 3, 1978:
Advent is not just four weeks preparing for Christmas. Advent is the church’s life. Advent is Christ’s presence as he uses his preachers, his priests, his catechists, his Catholic schools, all the effort meant to bring about God’s true reign, telling humanity that Isaiah’s prophecy is now fulfilled: Emmanuel – God with us.