The advent of our Savior is truly a great adventure. “Advent” is the root word for adventure, giving the impression of the arrival or appearance of something risky and wondrous. The Advent we celebrate has a wild and risky edge to it, because our God has always chosen wildness as one of His trademarks. Listen to what John Eldredge says on this:
“If you have any doubts as to whether or not God loves wildness, spend a night in the woods . . . alone. Take a walk out in a thunderstorm. Go for a swim with a pod of killer whales. Get a bull moose mad at you. Whose idea was this, anyway? …God made all this, he pronounced it good, for heaven’s sake. It’s his way of letting us know he rather prefers adventure, danger, risk, the element of surprise. This whole creation is unapologetically wild. God loves it that way.”
The infant Jesus is born into a world that was decidedly wild, hostile to His arrival. The last prophet to speak to Israel prior to John the Baptist was Malachi, some 400 years prior to the advent of the Savior in Bethlehem. 400 years of silence from God. In that time the people had been subdued by the Greeks and Seleucids, the Maccabean wars had been fought, and the religious leaders had come to an uneasy truce with the Roman occupiers. The Jewish faith had become a social and cultural construct that allowed the priests to rule over the people and the Romans to be satisfied. Money and power were flowing to the right places, so peace was maintained. The Maccabean wars had killed many Jews and had led to the Roman take-over and the establishment of Herod the Great as “King of the Jews.”
Herod would not abide a rival “King of the Jews.” The Jewish leaders would not have a rival religious leader who could upset the balance of power that made them wealthy. The people demanded a Messiah who would kick out the Romans and restore the Kingdom of Israel. Power was precariously balanced. Any disruption to that balance would not be tolerated. Jesus was the disruption everyone feared. His coming established a beachhead for a new, God-centered, transcendent Kingdom that would render the human kingdoms and power centers irrelevant. And of course, Satan would not allow such a defeat to his plans if he could stop it.
And into this scene Jesus is born to a couple who are outcasts and refugees from the scandal in Nazareth. The thread of God’s work of redemption had never been thinner than it was at this point. Before the child reaches His second birthday, the family is fleeing death, becoming refugees in Egypt until Herod the Great dies. If Jesus had been found in Judea while Herod was alive, soldiers would have been dispatched and the results would have been brutal. The only peace and safety the family could find was in a foreign country.
Herod dies, and the family begins the journey back to Judea, but the illusion of safety is short-lived. They must flee again, this time from the new king Archelaus. From His birth onward, Jesus is operating in hostile territory. Organized opposition will consistently work against Him. The people, when they find out He will not feed them food for nothing, desert Him. He is constantly under threat from some quarter. He knows this, and He knows how the earthly part of this story will end. Jesus was born a hunted child, would live a hunted life, and would die the death of a common criminal.
And yet, on this baby Jesus was suspended the hope of all humankind, for He was the satisfaction of the penalty for all sin. Through Him all the fears and pain of humanity could find resolution. Through Him our intimacy and communion with our God would be restored. The religiosity of Jesus’ day was doing nothing to move redemption forward. The religiosity of humans today is doing no better. There is no life in religiosity alone. Life for us is found in intimacy and communion with our God. The thread of redemption has always been built upon intimacy with Him.
John the Apostle wrote of Jesus, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” “Lived among us,” is literally “pitched His tent with us.” Jesus not only came to establish His Kingdom, but to pitch His tent with humans live the Kingdom among us. The most obvious feature of His Kingdom is the intimate fellowship He demonstrated with His followers. Thus, John later writes these words to us in 1 John 1:3 “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
The message for us in the Advent of our Savior is this: Our God loves us very much, and wants to return us to intimate fellowship and communion with Himself. He sent His Son, the Christ Child, Jesus, to demonstrate the intentions of our God by living among us, dying for our sins and in our stead, redeeming us from death and from pointless living. Our only appropriate response to this Advent, this risky and wonderful redemption adventure, is to give ourselves fully to living in intimacy and relentless love with our God. For each of us, this is the greatest adventure.