The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. — John 1:4-5 NLT
The wondrously odd phenomenon of being a parent is witnessing the particular incarnation of each child. Same parents, but every kid comes out differently, and the peculiar paradox of parenting is forming the parts you know and the parts you don’t know. You intentionally form in the child manners, responsibilities, social ethics, and good taste in music so they don’t grow up to be complete turds in society. But then there is this mysterious aspect of parenting, which is to pay attention to how they have uniquely come into the world and help foster their predisposition to its fullest fruition in greater society.
People come into the world already made. Sure, we are a culmination of body parts — eyes, ears, noses — enabling sights and sounds and smells and all other sensory experience, but there is a deeper, unseen part of us too. We use words like soul and spirit to describe that untouchable part. It’s this essence that’s hard to put a finger on, although when you look deep into someone’s eyes you can kind of see it.
This is the hidden part of the child you must pay attention to in parenting. And this is the same part in ourselves that we must bring to our Advent meditation.
The Franciscan friar Richard Rohr sums up his spiritual practices like this: “The physical world is the doorway to the spiritual world,”1 and the spiritual world is much, much larger than this one. His tradition believes there is a much larger reality, a reality hidden from our senses, a reality where God is easily seen and known, and this larger reality is only accessible through this limited physical one.
There is no mountaintop you can take your friends to and say, “Look, here’s God,” while you point to a giant, floating, cross-legged, golden-bearded man who winks at you and says, “I knew you were coming.” That’s not the world we live in. There is no visible evidence of God that way here. But if you look through the Scriptures, you’ll find that physical evidence is not the evidence we are offered for faith to rely on.
One of the best examples is when Jesus is teaching His disciples and references the final judgment, where apparently these two realities — the seen and the unseen — become one. He says that some people gave Him food when He was hungry, and drink when He was thirsty — and a few other interactions as well. The people say they never saw Jesus hungry or thirsty. And He replies, “When you gave food to the least of these, you were giving it to me.”2 Kind of mysterious, right? But what Jesus is pointing to is that the action of loving and caring for others in need opens the portal to this larger reality, this heavenly way — a way in which we connect with God. It is through this physical world that we are invited to connect with the hidden reality of God.
I know, I know. We’re starting to get really mystical. We could start talking about Heaven and earth and which one is our real home. And then I could throw a Meister Eckhart quote at you: “If the soul could have known God without the world, the world would never have been created,”3 and then I’ll lose some of you because that quote will cook your noodle as you ponder it for the rest of the day. So let’s gather back and go here together…
Who we are is deeper than where we find ourselves in this moment. And Jesus illuminates that deeper identity.
John writes that the Word (the Christ!) gave life to everything and everyone. And then this Word’s life (Jesus) brought light to everyone. Another way to say it is there is a Giver of this life. And then the Giver of this life joins that life, and His life brings light to all life. Don’t get lost in all the metaphor! Put simply, the function of light is to help us see more clearly.
Jesus’ life helps us see our own lives more clearly.
There are many ways this happens, but for one, His being human affirms our being human. It affirms that we are not supposed to be anywhere else but here. Now. In this life. In this world. From being born into it to disappearing from it. This is the life we are asked to live. You are supposed to be here. For another, He affirms that we, in some mysterious way, are an amalgamation of something seen and unseen. That we came from somewhere and we are going somewhere, just like He did. And this physical world is the doorway to that somewhere. And God is not only present to us there; God is right alongside us… here.
Our invitation to Advent starts here, now — and thank God, because being here now feels really complicated. And hard. And sad at times. With a lot of loss. Right? It hasn’t been that long since we all lost a normal way of life. Some of us are still recovering what we lost.
But what gives me hope in this Advent season is the reminder that everything can be taken away except that hidden part of me. Whether I lose my savings, my house, my title, or my very livelihood, what is un-takeable is the part of me that Jesus illuminates. The deeper self that was woven into this world but is anchored in a much larger world. In the gift of my life is a doorway to a much larger reality. And Jesus is the Light that shows me the way.
May you rest in the peace that the darkness can never extinguish the light that has been given you.
1 Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, “The Mystery of Incarnation,” Center for Action and Contemplation, January 27, 2017, https://cac.org/the-mystery-of-incarnation-2017-01-27.
2 Matthew 25:40, my paraphrase.
3 Quoted in Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 44.
Excerpted with permission from Honest Advent by Scott Erickson, copyright Scott Erickson.
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Jesus’ life helps us see our own lives more clearly. All the heady complications and mystical confusions that can get us muddled aside, Jesus is what brings clarity to our own lives yesterday, today, and tomorrow. What a relief because today is complicated and painful, hard and full of loss! Let’s refocus on Him today! Come share your thoughts on the coming Advent and Jesus, the Light of the world on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily