* This post is part of an Advent devotional being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here.
Thursday 18 December
Read: Isaiah 49:1-7
(light three candles)
Those of us who live in North America (and perhaps elsewhere in the world) have a tendency to think in “us-vs-them” categories. Some of it is friendly competition: Canada national hockey teams vs anyone else; or, U.S. Olympic basketball vs the rest of the world. We cheer for and delight in our professional and collegiate teams. We adorn ourselves with all sorts of team toques, jerseys, and t-shirts. The more fanatical among us will even decorate our vehicles or a room in our house according to our allegiances.
But much of our “us-vs-them” approach to life carries a more destructive side to it. Protestant vs. Catholic in Ireland. Hungarian vs. Roma in Eastern Europe. Black vs. White in the States. Hutu vs. Tutsi in Rwanda. Europeans vs. First Nations in Canada. Israeli vs. Palestinian. The West vs. Russia in the Cold War and now as it is playing out in Ukraine and Hungary. And the list could go on. Securing our peace so often comes at the expense of others. These divisions seem so deeply entrenched in the fabric of our cultural and national identities that it is nearly inconceivable for us to imagine a future where we flourish through each other’s successes, rather than in each other’s destruction. For the moment, our joy only feels secure when we have destroyed the perceived threat of the other, even if it comes at the cost of their lives.
Perhaps one of the more counter-cultural elements of Advent, then, is that the salvation God extends to us is not saving us from them. Jesus did not come to validate and reinforce my way of life over against someone else’s. Rather, Jesus has come so that “God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” For “it is too small a thing” for God to send Jesus just to usher me and those who look, believe, act, smell, sound, eat, vote, live, etc. like me into heaven. No. Jesus saves us from our “us-vs-them” patterns by shattering the basis for all our divisions – the first division we ever constructed: us-vs-God. And isn’t that what the birth of Jesus is really about? While we were busy making God and everyone else into our enemies, God chose instead to become one of us, one with us. In so doing, God tore down the dividing walls of hostility between us, making it possible for each of us to rejoice in each other’s successes and to spend ourselves so that others might flourish.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus, that the light of your life may fill us with everlasting joy as we anticipate your coming kingdom! Amen.