|| Jeremiah 29:4-7 & John 1:1-5, 9-14

Advent 1 – Space – God’s & Ours || A reflection by Dan Spragg.

 I love this verse: “The Word became flesh and made his home among us…” (John 1:14 CEB) Other versions say, ‘lived among us…’ or ‘dwelt among us…’ The Message translation says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.” It’s quite a tangible image. So too is the idea of ‘tabernacle,’ which other translations use which is literally ‘to live in a tent’, so, we could say, The Word, the fullest expression of God, pitched his tent among us. I quite like that one coming into summer…

This painting is called ‘The Word Pitched his Tent’, by Corita Kent.

I read this description of this painting: “Throughout her work, Kent privileged the humanity of Jesus and his engagement with ordinary people over the concept of a remote and judgmental God. For this passage, [John 1:14] she hewed closely to the original Greek text, choosing the more evocative translation “pitched his tent” versus “dwelt.” The somewhat comical notion of Jesus camping beside modern men and women greatly appealed to Kent.”[1] It does look comical doesn’t it, just another black blob living amongst the other black blobs? What does this idea of God setting up camp, or moving into your neighbourhood evoke for you? Have a chat to close to you now for a moment, what might you expect if God moved in across the road in flesh and blood?

I’ve heard God described as spacious. God’s spacious love, or the spacious love of God. That’s what I imagine my experience of God my new neighbour to be. Spacious, and roomy. And of course we know that God indeed is present living among us, so that is what my experience of God has been too. Spacious and roomy. To me that’s what grace feels like. The grace of God; spacious, roomy, freedom to live, freedom to move and stretch and grow… freedom to make mistakes, the space to realise my brokenness… enough room for me and my big head. ‘The Word became flesh and made his home among us…” The fullest expression of God, that always has been, and always will be, comes to us and moves in next door. It says, that the life and light of the world comes to us, bringing life and light. Life and light coming into our lives, into our homes, into our streets, into our city, into this land that is our home. Life and light come and living amongst us, all of life made new, all of life made holy by this very presence of God among us. Spacious love has moved in gathering in all of all.

We noticed, while it was October and we were in the UK, that the Christmas decorations had begun to emerge. I think it may have even been early October. Christmas, in October, already? It certainly was a surprise to see Christmas so early. As time went on though, Christmas seemed quite normal, it seemed like it fitted well. I think it was because it was getting darker, and colder and so it seemed quite easy to imagine that the snow might come, and that a fire might be lit for a family to sit around and a hot meal might be prepared and the lights might light up the streets… I got a wonderful Christmas jumper, a knitted one with Christmas things all over it, I’m not bringing it out until Christmas sorry, so you’ll have to wat until then to see it, but it seemed quite easy to imagine that I could wear the warm Christmas jumper on Christmas day. I’ve heard that the reason Christmas day is on the 25th of December is because it is three days after the winter solstice, and that three days after the shortest day is the first time with the naked eye that one can notice the sun coming up a little earlier. So, Christmas Day is the 25th because that’s the day we celebrate the light of the world coming to us in Jesus… so in the darkness of mid-winter, the first day one can see the light coming a little earlier in the morning, of course that should be the day to celebrate the coming of the light of the world! I imagine though, judging by previous years, if I wore my woolly Christmas jumper on Christmas Day in New Zealand that I would be a little warm! It’s summer, not winter; the days are long, not short; the fire we stand around might be more likely to be the BBQ than the log fire, and we’ve just had the longest day, there is little sign of darkness. Sometimes it feels like a bit of a forced hand to fit Christmas into our season, there’s something about fake snow sprayed on windows from a can that doesn’t quite have the same magic, I imagine, as the real stuff falling from the sky. All the images and language that we get used to at this time of year, well, it’s almost like it doesn’t fit.

The word spacious, as well as describing an aspect of God, could well be a helpful word to help us recognise our place in the Christmas season. We really do live in an amazing place, and summer is an amazing season, an amazing time to be here. Holidays have a sense of space to them. Our long days have a sense of space to them, as do our big open skies – in day or night time; the opportunity to be outside in the warmth, the slow moving nature of relaxing and celebrating Christmas with family and friends, the due dates and deadlines and the tasks that really can wait a few more weeks… it all seems quite a spacious time of year. I’ve got an American friend who has lived here for about 10 years, he said it took him a while to get used to Christmas and summer in New Zealand… it took him a little bit to understand that the whole country essentially closes down and goes to sleep for about three weeks over Christmas! He quite likes it, it’s all quite rushed where he is from, whereas here there’s more time to celebrate and take notice of what Christmas is. It is a gift to us this time of year, a spacious gift of time. The Word became flesh and blood and pitched his tent among us… into our summer, into our long days, into our big skies and open land, into our lack of deadlines, into our celebrations around the BBQ, into our Jandal wearing, Frisbee throwing days, the fullest expression of God comes and lives among us, meeting us here and now and all of it made holy by God’s presence with us. This is where we are, all of who we are here in Aotearoa, into our here and now God has pitched a tent to share the campsite with us. What is it then, if we are here and God is here, for us to live here where we are?

It is quite an occasion, Christmas and the holiday season. John O’Donohue, the Irish Poet has an interesting take on the idea of ‘occasion’. An occasion is typically something that suggests an event or a moment that is weighted with significance. O’Donohue comments that in western culture, occasion now means simply a social event that we are to attend and that we simply manage the time gaps between one occasion and another. He suggests we mostly exist through our time unconsciously – only waking up for the supposed significant moment, hoping to enjoy at least one of these every now and again. It is like we try and live from one mountain top experience to another and all the going up and down the mountain in between counts for nothing. The flipside is of course the question, what if we were to live our time not unconsciously, but consciously? O’Donohue writes: “Yet for the person who lives time consciously there is a continuous undertow of possibility always at work. Accordingly, it is received and appreciated as continuous occasions of invitation.”[2]

‘Continuous occasions of invitation…’ I wonder if in this time of year we are being offered an invitation, one that comes to fruition if we take notice of what this season truly is in all its fullness. I wonder if what is on offer is the invitation to enter into the gift of space, of slower pace, of opportunities to delight and awe at the big skies, to bask in the warmth of the sun, to make use of time to relate better with our family and friends, to recuperate, to rest in preparation for the next season, to move slower and more kindly on our land, to simply enjoy living where we do. I wonder if what is on offer is to notice God making a home with us, to look for the life and light that is all around, to remind ourselves that all of life is made holy because of this Word that took on flesh and blood. What might this occasion be as we are gifted time and space to breath and move slower amongst this holy space? I wonder if what is on offer is an invitation to peaceful living. What more is the presence of a spacious love, in the midst of a season that offers spacious living, than an invitation to peace?

The fullest expression of God, came and lived among us; is present now with us making holy all that is, seeking to redeem and renew, offering light and life to us here and now. How do we play our part? We play our part by being conscious, of waking up to the spaciousness of God and the ‘continuous undertow of possibility’, these ‘continuous occasions of invitation’ that are present and waiting to be discovered in our time and place. We play our part by receiving in gratitude all that has been given. And, we play our part by participating in what The Word made flesh came amongst us to do, to reveal fullness of life and light to the world. Perhaps in keeping then with the spaciousness we are becoming awake to, we choose to live more spaciously with others. Perhaps we choose to bring peace to our lives by offering grace to ourselves, to being kinder to ourselves. Perhaps we choose to bring peace to the lives of our friends and families by offering a kinder, roomier grace filled presence in our interactions. Perhaps we choose to bring peace to our land by being grateful for all that it supplies us with, and by treading lightly upon the earth. Perhaps we choose to bring peace to our world by not reacting, by not fuelling the fires of the extreme views and actions that are so prevalent. Perhaps we choose to bring peace by truly remembering, re-telling, and re-living the wonder, the awe, and the anticipation of what Jesus birth, the fullness of God expressed amongst us, truly meant not only for us but for everything and everyone, everywhere. Perhaps we choose to take notice of what is and what could be this Christmas and Summer Holiday season by simply remembering that we are caught up in a spacious place, in a season of space, in the momentous story of God’s spacious love, gathering up all that is and making all things new.

The Word became flesh and blood and pitched his tent among us… and we are invited to take notice, to receive, and to respond.

[1] From the Portland Art Museum, Online Collection, http://portlandartmuseum.us/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=21837;type=101

[2] John O’Donohue, Benedictus, 2007, p207-8.