Yesterday marked the first Sunday of Advent.
That time of the year when the Church prepares for the coming of God in the most unusual and humble of ways: as a mere baby, whose first bed was a food trough.
As much as Advent is and should be a time of preparation, God’s humble entrance into the world should remind us that the Advent season also marks a moment in time when God needed us.
I don’t mean that there was some deficiency on the part of God that only we could fix or help God with. I mean that God demonstrated His divine power by choosing to become enfleshed in the baby Jesus.
God chose to become vulnerable.
And in so doing, God chose to need us.
God chose to rely on us to accomplish the miracle of the Incarnation.
I know that might sound strange, perhaps even a bit blasphemous depending on your theological tradition, but think back on the story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospels.
Mary was the woman God needed to say “yes” to the daunting task of carrying God in her womb.
Elizabeth was the person God needed to comfort and console the mother of His Son.
Joseph was the man God needed to stand between Mary and her persecutors, to protect her and care for her needs.
And as a couple, Mary and Joseph were the people God needed to ensure the survival of the infant Jesus, providing the food, shelter, clothing, protection, and love a helpless infant needs to live.
In other words, even the Good Shepherd needed good shepherds to watch over him.
I suppose we could conceivably argue that God could have somehow miraculously done all of this without the help of people. But God didn’t. And that should tell us something both about the nature of God and our calling as His people.
While God may not intrinsically have a need us, God has chosen to need our help. God has chosen to invite us into the divine drama of redemption and to trust us to be more than just audience members, more than just scenery filling up the background.
We see this clearly in the season of Advent, a time that reminds us of the audacity of an infinite God who chose wrap Himself in the finite.
As much as Advent invites us to sing about the Godhead veiled in flesh, it also reminds us that the Incarnation was a collective effort that required both a Holy Spirit and human hands to see it through. That ancient drama is an everlasting declaration that God has faith in us, faith that those whom God called “good” in the Garden could be the same ones to help bring paradise to earth once more.
By preparing for the coming of God, Advent is in many ways a prophetic moment in which we declare a second coming of God when the work that began in a manger will finally be brought to completion.
This means that as people who live between the sound of an infant’s cry and the trumpets’ blast, we, like Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth, and all the other anonymous actors in the drama of Jesus’ birth, have a calling to care for the great gift we have been entrusted with – the Body of Christ.
We do this in much the same way that Mary and Joseph cared for the baby Jesus.
When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give the thirsty something to drink, tend to the sick, or care for those in prison, we are loving the least of these, the helpless who depend on others for their survival.
The infant Jesus was helpless. He depended on others to be fed, to be clothed, to be given something to drink, and to be cared for when he was sick. For a time, Jesus was the least of these. Which is why in a very real way, whatever we do for the least of these we are doing for Jesus.
When we do that, when we care for the least of these we are very literally incarnating the past and future hope of the Advent season – the coming of God. By incarnating the Advent season through humble acts of love, we become participants in a prophetic reenactment of the nativity story as we ourselves make the necessary preparations for the One who has come and is coming again.
This year during Advent, remember that God still needs your help.
So, don’t just sit back and wait for the arrival of the King.
Go out and prepare the way for His return.
FROM THE VAULT: A slightly different version of this post originally appeared a couple of years ago, but it felt like a good time to revisit it.