Most of us modern, western Christians believe we know what God is like. Ask us to describe him and we will usually come up with an assortment of adjectives such as omnipotent, majestic, sovereign and just. We might, of course, also throw into the mix a few softer descriptors like loving, merciful and compassionate.
Our image of God, I would contend, is typically dominated by strength, power and might, with love, mercy and compassion very much subordinate in the list of God’s attributes. (We could have a separate discussion about why that is; in my view, it’s because we humans tend to hanker after and idealise strength, power and might, so we project those idealised qualities onto God as his primary attributes.)
Now, suppose God were to one day tire of seeing humans guessing at what he was like; suppose he were to decide to settle the matter once and for all by turning up on earth in the flesh. In what manner would this all-powerful, awe-inspiring God come to earth in order to convince humanity of his dominant attributes of strength, power and might?
Would he perhaps be born in a royal palace as the successor to a ruling dynasty?
Might he not be born into wealth and luxury, enjoy an expensive private education and go on to rub shoulders with the rich and famous and generally be a resounding success?
And would he not, above all, demonstrate his superior power and might by not only resisting but stamping down and utterly defeating his enemies?
This, of course, is in many ways what the ancient people of Israel were expecting from their long-awaited messiah. But the great Christian mystery of the Incarnation gives the lie to all these fanciful notions, and forces us to switch our focus away from these lofty ideas of power and towards something quite different.
Indeed, as we once again consider the humble coming of our saviour this Advent season, the questions we are left with are these:
What kind of God would decide to be born into the world amid blood, straw and piss?
What kind of God would choose to reveal himself in an uneducated peasant from a rural backwater in a downtrodden, second-rate nation?
And just what kind of God, far from overpowering his enemies, would submit to violent torture and a bloody and shameful death at their hands?
Would a God whose defining characteristics are power and might come into the world like this?
Could it be that the very essence of God is found not in great, fear-inducing power and might but in vulnerability and weakness? Could it be that God knew that what we humans most needed to be modelled for us was not strength and power but humility and the way of peace?
And could it be that God is not at all interested in domination, control or any kind of overpowering victory; that he is, in fact, entirely and only interested in sharing in our varied lives, getting right down into the dirt and the beauty of human existence, and showing us once and for all that he is only and always all about compassion, mercy and co-suffering love?
I urge you, then, as you once again contemplate the mystery of Christ’s coming this Christmas, to let your heart be humbled and allow your very human logic to be undone by what this wandering teacher from Nazareth revealed to us about God. He is not up there, among the array of powerful warrior gods; he is down here with us, in the straw, the sweat and the tears.
[ Image: violscraper ]