|God Still Comes:
Rev. Johann G. Roten, SM
Fingers pointing to the crèche signal the thrust of Advent. They also measure a
distance between us and God. We make it our life's goal to reduce this distance. But, while we
desperately try to close the gap that separates us from God, we forget that God has already built the
bridge of our encounter with Him. He has come and He is still coming. He has caught up with us
and still does it! This is what we would like to meditate about during the current Advent season:
God's catching up with us. He approaches from behind, puts his hand on our shoulder and
whispers: "Do not fear, I am with you." His presence reminds us of the many ways in
has approached humanity in the past. There was always purpose and direction in his coming, a
sense of progression and holy pedagogy. God's love is that of a teacher and a conqueror. He
knows that we are slow to understand, difficult to move and of limited faith capacity. But His
ultimate aim is to conquer our heart with His love. Here is how He did it in the past.
A Cycle of Love
Advent means coming: The crèche building doesn't begin right before
Christmas, but already at the beginning of the Advent season. Advent isn't in the first place a
of waiting. Advent means coming; and the Advent season symbolizes the long history in which
God descends to us, makes his way toward us, and is accepted by us.
God comes: God's unstoppable coming into the world begins with God himself.
God is presented as a living Trinity. His is the receptacle of overflowing fullness of life. He is the
uninterrupted cycle of love symbolized in the unity of Father, Son and Spirit. God is giving,
unending, inexhaustible, as Creator, Redeemer and Spirit giving presence. And this God is at the
beginning of the boundless Christmas mystery. He has left the throne of his apparently
unapproachable glory and has made his way into time. His love enters into human history in
to write with us the most beautiful love story of all.
God's coming is progressive: This love story is a long journey which
leads over countless epochs, long barren periods and not a few stumbling stones, right to the door
of our hearts. A story that is told in many languages, and makes its habitat at the crossroads and
service areas of many cultures. God's coming cannot be stopped because his love cannot fail. His
descent is sheer goodness of heart with no limitations, but for courtesy's sake, he doesn't pass by
any human dwelling without knocking.
God's coming is continuous: So, our crèche begins with God. It
represented in the first place God's coming as triune Love. Three descending figures embody
promise, beginning and continuance of God's coming.
In Genesis 3:18, Abraham leaves Egypt. He and Sarah strike
their tent, move, and dwell in Hebron. In Hebron, Abraham plants his tent and builds an altar
(hence, the word Tabernacle is symbolized by tent). Tents are the dwelling of nomads. In
18, Abraham hosts visitors at his tent camp at Hebron.
To be a pilgrim: God's first and preferred dwelling among people was the tent.
At God's command, Abraham left his solidly built townhouse in Ur. He exchanged the
sophisticated way of life of a well-to-do city dweller with the unprotected and uncertain
of a homeless nomad. His dwelling was a tent, his home, the long lonely road. With no
place to stay, tent poles and ropes now secured his shelter instead of protective walls and sturdy
beams. Household supplies were reduced to the bare essentials: a string of earthernware hanging
on the tentpole, water jugs and cooking utensils, a scale, the loom, the hand-mill, the camel's
saddle, the flute.
A symbol of faith: It is here, in the tent, that God lived with Abraham and
his family, the God who commanded Abraham's departure. God intended the people to
biorhythm of faith as it is concretely expressed in putting up and taking down the tent. The tent
represents a place to stay without a place to stay. Movable and breakable, the tent repeatedly
urges its dwellers toward departure. The tent points to the road. To be a pilgrim is our first
Path and development: The tent image stands for the beginning of our God
experience. God approaches the people as call, promise and miracle. God's call is a persistent
and restless drive. The God of the tent is experienced as path and development; he is experience
in process and constant movement toward a goal. In associating with him, the people learn the
meaning and the demands of loosening and binding. Hence, the God of the tent became the God
freedom: freedom from all that is not freedom for God.
In Genesis 12: 6-7, Abraham is told by God of an unknown land that will be
for his descendents (Canaan). Sarah was buried in Canaan as told in Genesis 23. Canaan is called
God's property in Leviticus 25:23.
Moses was told in Exodus 3:17 of God's promise to deliver the Israelites from bondage in
Egypt. The Israelites depart from Egypt in Exodus 12:37. They traveled through the Red Sea and
into the desert. The faithlessness of the Israelites prevents a direct entry into the land of Canaan
(Numbers 14, 26:63-65, and 32:6-15). Moses is able to see Canaan from afar (Deuteronomy
34:1-5). In Numbers chapter 20, Moses dies at Mt. Nebo without entering the promised land of
God holds and nourishes: The God who called Abraham into his radical
discipleship also listens to human needs and
whims. The story of Abraham introduces and unfolds a second image: the land.
At first glance, the land stands in opposition to the tent. Did God entice the people out of
the city in order to make them settle in a new place? The land is not the property of the people.
The land is God's land. The earth is God's. It holds us and nourishes us. The earth, or the land,
indicates a further epoch in God's journey to the people. It took form in the life and experiences
Holy ground: Thanks to God's kindness and the ruse of two women, Moses was
saved from the
threatening waters of the Nile. He was given back to the earth and grew ever more radically
in the service of that God who spoke to him in the many faces and voices of this earth. Moses
followed the call of blood, he placed himself on the side of his people and answered the call of
Israel's God. Where God spoke to Moses in the burning thornbush is holy ground. Here the
restless pilgrim could rest. His sandals were loosened. Deeply embedded in Moses'
was the conviction: God is the gloriously-mighty Lord to whom heaven and earth
The promised land: God let Moses' people share in his kindness: the water of life
from the rock, quail and manna
for nourishment. He came down on Sinai's peak in order to endow Moses with heaven's law for
the earth. And at the end of Moses' journey, God led him to the final battle on the mountain
became the entry to the promised land. Moses did not taste the honey of the promised land nor
drink its milk. He saw it with his arms outstretched in prayer, supported by two companions. In
God's time, not sooner, the people were allowed to cross the borders to the new
A new creation: God has wedded himself to this earth. Its history from then on
his, its name according to
the words of Scripture is that of bride and partner. The fruitful land that flowed with milk and
honey (Ex. 3,17) is nonetheless only a pale premonition of that new earth which God, maker and
redeemer, intended to create (Is. 65,17). The seer of Patmos saw it in a spectacular vision of the
future (Rev 21,1).
God is a faithful God: If the tent was an expression of the challenge to loosen
and bind, so the land, the soil and
the earth are an image of God's constancy. God is a faithful God. His love lasts forever. His
presence is constant in the city, on the road and in the desert.
Life in God is a hidden life. It obeys the laws of dying and becoming. Fruits ripen only in
trust and patience. Life in God is fruitful because in the long run, his goodness is constant.
The Temple is a symbol of God's residence and presence with Israel. In I
Chronicles 22: 2-5, David brought the Ark to Jerusalem. He assembled stone,
metal, and wood in order to build the Temple. Solomon began the actual
construction. There are descriptions of the workforce in I Kings 27-32 and II
Chronicles 17-18. A fourteen-day-long ceremony of dedication is
described in I Kings 8:1-2, 65. The Temple is the heart of Israel's empire (I Kings 8:65). The
Temple is a fortress (I Kings 7:51, 14:25-26, 15:18, II Kings 11:10, 12:4).David's story marks another step that God takes into the inner spheres of creation and
humanity. God's journey to the depths of our heart takes so long because his redemption must
penetrate every dimension of reality. If God's presence in the tent and the land was the
of a cosmological self-manifestation, then in David's mission this became an anthropological
turning point at the end of which God took up his dwelling in a temple built by human
God among humans: David belongs to the eminent figures of Advent God
entrusted himself more and more to
the hands of his people and their leaders. David thus became the custodian of God's presence
within the chosen people.
A forgiving God: David experienced God's presence and promise in his
encounters and difficulties with
others. He was chosen to speak out in opposition to King Saul, his former fatherly friend and
mentor. The anointing by the prophet Samuel sealed David's call from God. It was the sign of
having been chosen; through it David received God's power. This is a partnership which tolerates
neither unfaithfulness nor injustice! When David's intrigue robbed his faithful follower, Uriah, of
his wife and his life, a disappointed and angry God intervened. He sent the prophet Nathan to
David, this time not in order to bless, but to chide, to make the king see and convert. David came
to realize what he had done; he did penance for his atrocity. By grace he was drawn once more
into God's friendship, yet as a consequence he was denied the privilege of erecting the most
glorious memorial of all: the temple. Only his son and successor Solomon would be allowed to
build the marvel, and the glory of God would fill it.
The God of the city: David's life led to the threshold of the temple. God made
himself more and more
dependent on the people. God accompanied his people in all phases and stages of their personal
and social development. He did not recoil from becoming the God of the polis, that is, of the
political union, of the temple and of the cult. As partner to human beings, he lived among them.
He sealed a covenant with them for time and eternity. In the overabundance of his love, God's
glory entered Solomon's temple (Ez. 43,4) although the train of his mantle would have been
enough to fill the great halls of God's house (Is. 6,1). Later, the human body will be elevated to
the temple of the living God (2 Cor 6,16; Heb 3,6).
Referee and prisoner of love: It is part of God's manifold ways of revealing
himself, that the Invisible allows himself to
be experienced in visible ways. God became a symbol and a point of reference. He allowed
himself, as it were, to be within reach at any time; the Untouchable placed himself at the disposal
of the people. This manifestation and availability is symbolized in the temple. Out of love, God
allowed himself to be domesticated. The city now became a holy city in whose midst God
Sarah was a barren woman we are told in Genesis 11:30 and 16:1. In
Genesis 18:1-15, there is a prophecy that Abraham and Sarah will conceive a son (Isaac).
Samuel's mother prays for a child in I Samuel 1:11. In I Samuel 1:19, Elkanah and Hannah
conceive Samuel. An angel tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will have a son in Luke 1:13. In Luke
1:24, the text states that Elizabeth conceived a child (John the Baptist). Mary's virginal
conception of Jesus is foretold in Luke 1:31, restated in Luke 2:21. Jesus is called the "fruit
of Mary's womb" in Luke 1:42. In Luke 11:27, a woman tells Jesus that blessed is the
womb that bore Thee.
Bearers of the promise: Abraham, Moses, David the main actors of the Advent
story were men. In reality, the
history of the great promise another way to explain the word Advent was filled with great
women. They often stood in the shadows of the men, but they were not their inferiors when it
came to loving faith..They were bearers of the promise. Our thoughts turn to those women who
were the bearers of God's Advent in a physical sense. Without them God's love story with the
chosen people would have failed. Above all, without them the singular event that happened to
woman Mary would remain even more puzzling.
The tent, the land and the temple were thresholds and anticipations of a still more intimate
relationship between God and human beings. Again and again in the course of the Old
God visited the womb of women in a miraculous way until finally he himself became a human
being in the body of a woman.
With God nothing is impossible: In the Old Testament, the bearing and
proclaiming of the most beautiful mysteries of
encounter with God was often reserved to women who were apparently overlooked in life. One
was too old to give birth, another was sterile, and the third was terrified that the life of her newborn
would be torn from her and murdered. Still, the miracle happened. God gave and sustained life,
contrary to all reason, contrary to nature, and contrary to all expectation. Ancient Sarah fell into
fits of laughter when she learned of the coming child. She gave birth to Isaac. Jochebed's son,
Moses, who must die according to Egyptian law, became the protector and liberator of the
enslaved people. God showed mercy through Hannah's humiliating unfruitfulness. From her
came the prophet Samuel. And who does not know the story of Mary's mysteriously-planned
conception and birth, which begins with the meeting of the elderly couple Joachim and Anna at
the golden gate? John the Baptizer! He, too, is a living answer to a long-buried expectation. But
here, too, the incredible took place, and the child leapt for joy in the womb of his mother,
With God nothing is impossible. The laws of neither nature nor logic are unconquerable
boundaries for God. The omnipotence of his love moves past all hindrances and transforms
contradictions into open readiness. When the fullness of time was reached, that is when all other
forms of his presence in and among people had played out, God became man in his Son from
the woman Mary. He became the God-man and the human being, whose nature he had
incorporated, found his way back to his origins in God.
God in the womb: In Mary's womb began the final and most profound God
experience of a human, an
experience that was in God's hands alone where he grew and gained strength in a human
person up to the point where the laws of growth reverse to the contrary and the human being
grew ever more intimately close to God. After Mary had participated in the fully human
development of her son, she matured in Christ's school to the fullness of her own faith. She
became the ever-present figure and model of the church. We, too, may become Christ-bearers for
one another as Christ's life increases in us.
The heart is the location where conversion to Christ takes place. This is
explained in Acts 2:37, Psalm 51:10, and Joel 2:12. In I John 5:10, the reader is told that the
testimony of God is in the believer's heart. In Revelations 2:23, God is called the searcher of
hearts and minds. In Ephesians 3:17, there is a prayer "may Christ dwell in your heart
through faith and may charity be the foundation of your life." In Galatians 4:6, we are told
that God sent forth into our hearts the Holy Ghost.
God's final destination: On Christmas Eve the actual
crèche festival begins. God
comes. He is there. He is visibly
there. He has finally allowed himself to be caught in the net of human destiny. He shares the
helplessness of the child and the homelessness of the refugee. He experiences in his own body
laws of growth and becoming. He endures the anxieties of the soul and tastes the joys of the
spirit. He is thrown into a network of relationships that carry him, stretch him and ultimately,
humanly speaking, will crush him.
But today is the crèche festival. We celebrate the feast of God's presence. For all times,
this moment has been preserved in a multitude of images, momentary snapshots that will have
been changed and are shaped over and over again innumerable times. The crèche proclaims this
one faith in manifold variations in a silent and yet strongly expressive message:
reign came to an end because God in human form appeared for the new age of eternal life. And it
had its beginning with what had been prepared by God." (Ignatius of Antioch)
Crèche: symbol of the heart: Our crèche does not miss any of the classical
elements: Mother and Child, Joseph
somewhat to the side, the silent presence of the animals, the star over the stall. On the right are
the shepherds, on the left the three kings with their treasures.
The crèche guarantees the historical reality of God's presence. But it is also a symbol that
points further. The crèche points to our hearts. The heart is the final destination of God's coming,
your heart, my heart, and the hearts of everyone, because God has come to all people and for all
people. Where the heart remains closed, God has been unsuccessful in reaching the goal. Advent
does not come to a close, as if the crèche building were only a lovely game. Crèche and heart
many things in common. They both stand for faith's poverty and love's wealth. The fragile
guards the covenant of love, as it is embodied in the Holy Family. In a similar way, a new
covenant is sealed in the hearts of the people, a covenant which in its own way is an image of the
Trinity and the Holy Family.
The original text was authored by Johann G. Roten, S.M. under the title
Gottes Kommen in der Zeit: Ein Krippenbau. Translator: M. Jean
Frisk. The English text given here is an excerpt of the original and has
been edited by the author.
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