Every Advent season, I carefully reflect on the nature of God’s coming among us. It’s a time of remembering, of reviewing the surprising ways that God has broken into our world and into our individual lives. Advent is about God getting involved against all human odds.
Consider the shepherds of Luke 2. The angelic announcement of Christ’s birth provides a clue to the nature of God’s shocking advent love. Shepherds were considered unclean by the religious leadership, and yet, the Messiah’s very first public viewing is to them of all people! What unexpected Advent wonder! And what a sign of things to come!
Now consider the choice of Mary who was from a backward little village, a spot on the map of Judea, a peasant of lowly stock, and a girl- perhaps only 15 years old. Who would have thought of it but God? Yet this is the stuff of Advent. Indeed, I believe if Jesus were to be born in 2015 it might be somewhere like the troubled lower east side of Buffalo, or Ferguson, Missouri, or Kabul, Afghanistan. But then again, God is unfolding an Advent-charged future into which no life needed ever again be insignificant.
I am a son of an East Side Buffalo couple, born in the Depression. Who was I, born into a family marked with deep heartache and pain, to be discovered by the grace of God? As a boy, deeply wounded by it all, I would stare in despair for hours, days on end, year after year, out of my upstairs window into the darkness.
Then into this life God came. After years of rage and drugs and isolation, God sought me out. It was Advent time—unexpected, uninvited, and in the middle of a football game! There I was, 22 years old, waiting to return the kickoff from the other team. I was standing beside Greg—the two of us in the end zone. I hadn’t seen him for about a year. (The last time was at a drinking party, where he’d told me about the latest house he had robbed.) Then it came- out of the blue: “Bob I’ve got good news!” “Huh?” “I’ve met Jesus Christ as my Savior.” It was Advent time! God took the initiative and entered this obscure young man’s life. Just like that—smashing into my life like a defensive tackle. (Maybe “smashing” is a little strong, for God never forces his way.) Jesus came as a baby among us. Yet come he did, and come he does! God has gotten involved in our world, and things will never be the same.
Another Advent encounter was on an unlikely day in California. It was in the early 1980’s when I was attending seminary. We were financially broke—borrowing five bucks here and begging five bucks there. On top of this, we had had two unexpected pregnancies and were facing monstrous debt. I was dragging myself back to our small apartment after another grueling day of rigorous study about God who seemed absent in our struggles. Then, suddenly, there she was, headed toward me down the street—a person from my college days in New York—Lois, a friend of an acquaintance. She was now living in Southern California, married to a doctor. As we chatted, I told her my basic story—without the bad stuff—but she seemed unsatisfied. “What else, Bob?” she asked. “How are you doing now?” So I told her. We were down, both emotionally and financially. I was questioning my call to the ministry. We were at our lowest depth—with two young children, no money, and skyrocketing debt. Feeling uncomfortable in sharing more with this relative stranger, I politely closed the conversation. Then, three days later, an envelope arrived in the mail with a check for $1,000. The accompanying note simply said that Lois and her husband would like us to have this!
Welcome to wonder—wonder that keeps meeting us with unexpected gifts of grace in our hour of need! Welcome to the God of Advent. Welcome to the God of shepherds and peasant girls. Welcome to the God of former drug-heads and house burglars. Welcome to Advent, where we have stumbled upon a manger, though it was all planned from God’s side of things. Behold he comes! Behold, it’s Advent time!
Bob Tice (D.Min. ‘12) is lead pastor at River Rock Church, a multicultural church in the inner city of Buffalo, N.Y. He teaches Theology of the City at Northeastern Seminary. This blog post was adapted from an article in Pulpit Digest, 1998.