Fourth Saturday of Advent
December 24, 2011
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. (Matthew 1:18)
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman. . . (Galatians 4:4)
A common complaint about Christian faith is that it insists upon particularity. As the story goes, there is this particular God who raises up a particular people in a particular spot on planet earth. 2,000 years ago a particular baby is born in a particular manger on a particular day. And yet, in the midst of all that particularity, there is supposed to be something universal happening.
This is an offensive claim for some folks. If God had meant for the particular story of Jesus to be one for all people of world—and the only true story—then why have it happen in such a small, insignificant, particular spot in history? Why not make something extraordinary take place in all parts of the world, with zillions of angels blowing trumpets and creating a ruckus, making sure that no one misses the point?
It appears that, when God immerses himself in human life and history, he does it in a particular way because that’s how real things happen. All true historical events are particular; none of them are independent of time and space. The earliest Christians were insistent on that theme: This is not a made-up story—it is real, it happened, we saw it all, and it happened in this way. Jesus was really born at a particular moment in time; he didn’t pop out of the sky or spin out of a magic lamp—he was born of a particular woman, in a way that binds him to all human beings throughout all history. The birth of Jesus is simultaneously particular and universal.
That God would be our help is one thing; that he would be our help by encountering the world in a particular way is another. It confounds us that such a particular act could have universal effect. But so our claim goes.
In the particularity of human life, God has sent his particular Son to be Emmanuel—God with us. And that is for us all.
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