Advent Reflection Part 2
The second week of Advent devotions in God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas from Dietrich Bonhoeffer centered around the theme of mystery. Once again reading these reflections caused me to pause and reflect upon the mystery of God’s love for us made known to us in Jesus Christ. That was particularly true when reading Monday’s reflection which said:
The greatest mystery is not the most distant star; on the contrary, the closer something comes to us and the better we know it, then the more mysterious it becomes for us. The greatest mystery to us is not the most distant person, but the one next to us. The mystery of other people is not reduced by getting to know more and more about them. Rather, in their closeness they become more and more mysterious. And the final depth of all mystery is when two people come so close to each other that they love each other. Nowhere in the world does one feel the might of the mysterious and its wonder as strongly as here. When two people known everything about each other, the mystery of the love between them becomes infinitely great. And only in this love do they understand each other, know everything about each other, know each other completely. And yet, the more they love each other and know about each other in love, the more deeply they know the mystery of their love. Thus, knowledge about each other does not remove the mystery, but rather makes it more profound. The very fact that the other person is so near to me is the greatest mystery.
This is the lesson and the grace that my marriage has taught me. I have marveled and I have been mystified that the more and more my wife gets to know me, the more she loves me. And the more she wants to continue to get closer to me. As keenly aware as we are of our own faults, our own shortcomings, our own failings we try to hide them as much as we can from those close enough to us to observe them. I remember thinking it was my job to pretend to be, to act like, someone that would be good enough to want to spend time with, someone attractive. And yet the joy and freedom of marriage, and ever still the mystery of marriage, is being able to put down the mask, but fully seen, fully known and still loved. Try as I might to hide my shadow, eventually my shadow was seen. It is a mystery to me that having seen my shadow my wife would still want to draw nearer to me.
An even greater mystery is that our God does this as well. Our God created us, takes notice of us, knows us. And yet at Christmas we celebrate the fact that our God draws near to us in Jesus Christ. God comes to be among us in Jesus Christ. God comes to be for us in Jesus Christ. It is a mystery that the God who knows us, the God from whom we can truly never hide our shadow, eagerly and joyfully comes into our midst. This proves to us who God is. This witnesses to who God is. In God’s drawing near to us we see and learn more about the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ. About that God, about the nature of that God, Bonhoeffer writes:
Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggregates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes is marvelous….God is not ashamed of the loneliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to loneliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.
In knowing us fully and loving us still, in seeing our shadow and still coming near, we realize our God is a God who loves to be in the places we most fear. But this drawing near of our God, this gaining in knowledge about our God doesn’t reduce the mystery, rather the mystery grows. Who is this God that would march right in to the places from which we desire to flee? Who is this God who is not ashamed of to look upon our shameful deeds? Who is this God who loves to be where those of us clinging to our own perceived goodness would never deign to be found?
Would our God have stayed away, would our God have stayed far from us in the holiness of heaven we might better understand Him. Would our God have remained distant He might have fit into the box. But the mystery of Christmas, which Advent creates time and space to attempt to work out, is that our God is coming near and nearer still. Our God is coming so near to us in a mystery we will never be able to fathom. And God is doing this out of love. Out of a love so big and so deep it becomes to us a mystery we shall never be able to comprehend. We can never explain. We can never reason. We can never ascertain. We can only accept. We can only enjoy. We can only worship.
“For God so loved the world…” Wow.