Today, on this first Sunday of Advent, we light the first Advent candle and honour Jesus' first coming. We also anticipate His second coming as Christ the King.
As I meditated on the meaning of Jesus coming to us, I thought of a story.
* * *
Once there was a king who loved a peasant maiden. He loved her so much, even though she was much beneath his social rank and even though she was totally unaware of him.
But there was a major problem. He was the greatest of kings. He had the power to make even the greatest aristocrats tremble before him, and he had the strength to crush all his opponents. And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden. But he dared not utter a word to anyone lest they think he was mad.
The king suffered in private grief at such an absurd impossibility. How could he find a solution?
He knew that there was a wide gulf between them. Whereas he belonged in a world of kings and could speak eloquently on many subjects in many languages, her world was of her home and gossip in the village. Her companions were birds and animals of the forest.
How could he show his love towards her? If he rode up to her cottage in his gold carriage, in his royal robes, with his decorated horseman and armed escort, he would overwhelm her.
As his loyal subject, she would be obliged to accept his offer of marriage. Would she accept willingly? Or would she tremble in fear in his presence? Would she feel crushed by the restrictions of living in a palace? By not being able to dress as she wanted or walk around her cottage and garden with bare feet?
The king didn't want her to be a cringing subject. He didn’t want to destroy her. He wanted her to love him as an equal and let mutual love cross the gulf between them.
But how could he breach that gulf?
The more the king wrestled with this dilemma, the more convinced he became that he could not elevate her without crushing her.
|Peasants in the Field-Camille Pissarro|
There was only one thing he could do. He would renounce his throne and descend to her social status. He would throw off his royal robes and become a peasant, wooing her as one of her own.
As soon as he made his decision, the king knew freedom. He knew joy. He knew it could be done.[i]
* * *
This story, adapted from Soren Kierkegaard, is a perfect allegory of what Jesus did for us in His descent to earth. He became Immanuel, “God with us”. He closed the chasm that existed in the Old Testament when His appearance as flaming fire or as angels frightened people.
Jesus came in a way we can understand—a baby who needed tending and care for all his needs, and an adult who got tired and sometimes knew he needed to get away from crowds.
Jesus came to set us free through His work on the Cross. And now we have freedom in a personal relationship with Him, and to love him in return.
What better way to articulate the meaning of Jesus as Immanuel than a Christmas greeting written by a persecuted believer while imprisoned in Iran. Farshid Fathi wrote:
Although the beauty of Christmas or the signs of Christmas cannot be found in this prison, with the ears of faith I can hear the everlasting and beautiful truth that, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”[iii]
And more than ever I am experiencing that He is with us, with me and my children, with me and with my faithful friends who are having part in my sorrows and not ashamed of my sorrows.
May…God carry you ahead victoriously as He spreads the aroma of His knowledge, because we are called to be free…
Your captive brother who is free in Christ.[iv] (2014)
After writing this blog, I have a new understanding of Jesus as Immanuel. I'll never again think of Him as I did before.
* * *
This Advent, take moments to clear the clutter of shopping, to-do lists and distractions to focus on Jesus’ Incarnation and what it means to you. Read Philippians 2:6-8.
Thank Him for closing the gap and coming to give us new life and freedom through his atoning work on the Cross.
[i] Soren Kierkegaard. Philosophical Fragments. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1936, 1962. Pp. 31-43. Philip Yancey. Disappointment with God. New York: HarperPaperbacks. 1988. Pp. 109-110.
[iii] Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23