At its heart, the season of Advent is a four-week declaration that the God we follow has decided to be Emmanuel, God-with-us. This is not particular to Advent, as much of Scripture’s story tells us this same important truth. God was with Abraham and Sarah as they embarked into unfamiliar terrain toward a new promised land. God was with the people of Israel as they wandered the wilderness for forty years. God was with the scattered people of God during the time of Babylonian captivity even after Jerusalem’s Temple, a sign of God’s presence, was destroyed. God was with those three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fire, and with Daniel in the lion’s den. We proclaim God is with us because that has been God’s promise to us all along. In the Ark that traveled with us, in the Shekinah that gave light to our path, in the tablets that spoke commandments of life and at the altar where reconciliation was restored, God has been with us.
During Advent, we find ourselves declaring this age-old promise has come to us once again, this time through the rather insane idea that God has decided to become human, of all things. We had become comfortably accustomed to pillars of smoke and fire and a curtained-off Holy of Holies that smelled of incense. We were familiar with God being inside the traveling tabernacle at a safe and manageable distance from our own tents and living quarters. We enjoyed having holy people who would go in the Temple and do the holy things so that we could go about our business and catch the recap.
And then God had to go and make Godself known through the face of a newborn baby, vulnerable and utterly reliant upon human hands. God had to get born right in the middle of a population-saturated city- in a barn, of all places, which is no place for incense and gold plated goblets and fine robes. The barn is where you go to do your work—your dung-slinging work, your hay-bailing work, your messy calf-birthing work. The barn is where you wear the clothes you’d otherwise not be seen in, your hair mussed and smelling not-so-lightly of sheep.
God being with us, until now, seemed such a valiant, victorious kind of affair, like the character in the movie who arrives upon the hill just as the battle/love skirmish seemed lost. Glad as we were to see it, we expected as much. But now God has infiltrated that which we have quarantined the most—the mundane, everyday-ness of things, the space where we actually live our lives and think our thoughts and do our barn-like dirty work. God has become the guest who has arrived at our house when the sheets are dirty, the dishes are piled in the sink and the carpet looks like Fido has brought in fifteen of his friends for a spa day. Not to mention, we have not a THING on hand in the fridge.
We prefer to have a day’s notice for visits like this. We’d like the boundary of the holy to be clearly marked so that we can come toward it only when we feel ready—and also only when we feel like making the trip from our “real lives” over to that fancy, curtain-tastic tent where God lives.
At Advent, we do our best to prepare for the God who knows no boundaries to come and infiltrate all those places that are not company-ready, those places we have wanted for our own, those places we have tried to keep as holy buffer. But if there’s anything we ought to know by now, it’s that God is pretty insistent about this promise. God has decided to be God with us, even when we’re slinging dung in the barn.
I’ve heard some really great things about Danielle’s new book, The Boundary-Breaking God: An Unfolding Story of Hope and Promise. While I haven’t had the chance to read it myself, if Jürgen Moltmann sings such praise about the book, it’s bound to be great:
“I am more than grateful for this book by Danielle Shroyer. It is not only, it is also beautiful to live with God’s promise in the heart and God’s enlarging horizon before your eyes. The Boundary-Breaking God is full of memorable stories and quotable sentences, going with us as faithful companions.” (Jürgen Moltmann)
Shroyer was very highly shaped by Moltmann’s theology while in seminary, and you can find Moltmann-theology all through the book – it’s a very hope-filled book. Through this book, Shroyer shares a portrait of Christianity “as a way of life that has always found its meaning on the margins of society. And, in reaching toward the margins, the entire story of God expands to include all of creation.”
I’m looking forward to reading this book over the Christmas break – but I have flipped through it enough to know that it’s going to be a good one. If you’re interested, you can check it out here.