Church traditions vary in terms of what topic is emphasized each Advent Sunday. Yesterday in our church when the third candle was lit, the minister said it was the candle of love. But then all the music, every prayer, each Bible reading, and most definitely the sermon, called attention to Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us.
When I finally quieted myself sufficiently (it takes longer some Sundays), when I determinedly called my mind back from the scattered tasks still to be done this week—those eternally important things like baking cookies and making candy for the neighbors, cooking soup for lunch guests, writing notes on Christmas cards, at least swishing at gathering dust—when I began to center on the meaning of “God with us,” wisps of stillness settled over me.
While faithful Jews like Simeon and Anna, patiently, obediently waited for the promised Messiah, most others considered the waiting too long, the promises too unfulfilled. Some became zealots, fighting to bring about the promised kingdom. Others turned to means of self-fulfillment like the gathering of wealth or the pursuit of religious or political power. And I’m positive that many others just gave up hope that God would intervene. And even the few who in the quiet midnight hours yet believed, did they really think that God—Jehovah—would come as a helpless, crying, blood-covered baby?
John, the man who so deeply and intimately loved Jesus, who left his career and family to follow Jesus—even to the cross—one of those who with his own eyes “beheld his glory,” wrote that this long-awaited one came in human form, in flesh. Historians say that John was born when Jesus was about six years old. Did he hear stories about this expected one? About the strange circumstances surrounding his birth? Did he ever anticipate that he would become Jesus’ follower?
John described Jesus’ “Emmanuelness” this way: The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood (Eugene Peterson’s parapharase of John 1:14). There is profound meaning and implication of the word Emmanuel, but as we enter this third week of Advent, I’m simply struck with the fact that God choosing to live in my neighborhood, in this chaotic, fear-crazed world, within me, is unadulterated, sacrificial, mysterious LOVE. And so we light the third candle and call it love: God with us.