We rode all day and most of the night on a series of creaky buses, up and down twisty mountain roads, stopping frequently to pack in more passengers. The final leg into the misty hills was in the cold of night in the back of a flatbed truck, snuggled among dusty sacks of corn. At the end of the road, we switched on flashlights and scrambled down a slippery wooded trail until we arrived at a tiny village, dark except for the glow of a few exposed light bulbs. Our host welcomed us into his kitchen where a small woman was cooking over an open fire. We sat on two rustic chairs in the blackened room and sipped steaming coffee and bowls of thin broth served with heaping portions of rice, black beans and handmade tortillas.
After eating our fill, we retired to a drafty bedroom and fell asleep on woven mats laid on the floor. A chill breeze blew through openings in the walls, but I slept like a baby.
In the morning we washed in a frigid bucket of water carried up from a nearby stream.
The sun hadn’t been up long when we were joined by about twenty men carrying shovels and machetes who led the way to a small jungle clearing being prepared for new coffee plants. Using only their hands, they hacked away the brush, purged the ground of boulders, cut level terraces into black earth and widened a small stream to water the young plants. And as they worked they made jokes, offered advice to the younger men, yelled orders, bragged about their exploits, told time-tested stories, laughed…
and I didn’t understand a word, because I didn’t speak their language. I was an outsider to their history and culture, a stranger to their aspirations and values, completely ignorant of the things that made them special — how they viewed themselves, their families, their village and their place in the created order.
I was with them but separated from them, as if a glass wall kept us apart. To have any hope of understanding them would mean a lifetime of living as one of them. And if they had any desire to get to know me that day, the barriers on their side were every bit as high.
It’s Advent, the season in which we anticipate — and marvel at — God’s arrival in history.
Why did God enter the world through the birth canal of a poor, young Jewish woman? Why did he choose to reveal himself by living a conventional, working class life in an obscure village in a dusty corner of a conquered nation?
Simply put, he did it to keep a promise and fulfill a heartfelt desire.
I will live among you, and I will not despise you. I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be My people. — Leviticus 26:11-12 (NLT)
Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be His own special treasure. The LORD did not set His heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you… — Deuteronomy 7:6-8 (NLT)
To understand Christianity, you have to come to terms with the incarnation — the eternal God becomes flesh and blood. And to understand the incarnation, you have to manage a glimpse of the heart of God.
For the mysterious and hidden God to know us, he had to become one of us. For the timeless Creator to walk among us, he had to put on our flesh and muscle and bone. For the holy God to experience the consequences of sin and evil in this fallen world, he had to grow up as a citizen of a corrupt and unjust society. For the eternal God to know the sting of death, he had to experience the joy of community and family, followed by the grief of the loss of friends and loved ones.
At Calvary, he would experience all of these things in his own heart, upon his own body.
But Advent is season for wonder and awe. Jesus Christ came into the world he loves so that we could know each other intimately. He is not content to stand at a distance. He is hidden, but wants to be seen. He has set his heart on us because he loves us.
Surprisingly, the King of kings and Lord of lords is humble. He entered the world as a baby and took his first night’s sleep in a stable… all because of love.
Photo credit: Caravaggio, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1609.