The moments just following my son’s birth four years ago were some of the most holy ground I have ever experienced. As his full-bodied screams pierced the room, the very space between heaven and earth felt thin, and hallowed, the lines between sacred and worldly bleeding into one another, much as the elation and the pain coursed simultaneously through my body.
Birth is an altogether spiritual experience, and so it seems fitting that one of the most holy days of my faith tradition is characterized by a baby–a baby who was covered in blood and fluid and vernix, a baby who cried and tore Mary’s flesh and suckled at her breast. A baby who had an umbilical cord, who soiled himself, who had wrinkly toes and patchy hair, a baby who was helpless and wholly dependent on his teenaged mother. The Greatest Mystery of our faith entered our broken world the way we all do, in a body, in flesh and bone and sweat and muscle and organs and pushing and pulsing and screaming.
And we sing come, let us adore him.
Christianity’s Advent begins tomorrow, November 29th, and it is a season where we will wait, expectantly, much like a pregnant mother, for the miracle of Christmas Day. Christ-mas. Christ’s coming. A season where we ready ourselves and prepare him room, much like a pregnant mother who nests and washes tiny infant clothing in preparation and arranges a nursery.
And this Advent, I find myself coming back to the body. I need the body, the body who knows my limitations and expectations and fractures and failures and desire and disappointment and hunger and need because it has felt them, too. I don’t want impractical faith, faith that acts like God is some ethereal force somewhere out there, like God is there but not here. I don’t want a faith that’s too far removed to be attained, a faith that acts like it exists only in my head and my heart without paying any attention to the skin that inhabits them.
How could a faith like that speak to an epidemic that has claimed over a million lives?
How could a faith like that speak to the blood of black and brown bodies that soaks the earth?
How could a faith like that speak to children who feel the angry gnaw of hunger in their bellies?
How could a faith like that speak to inmates on death row?
How could a faith like that speak to refugees who traverse the deadly desert or the dangerous waves of the ocean in search of freedom?
How could a faith like that speak to the one who has cancer?
How could a faith like that speak to the AIDS patient?
How could a faith like that speak to the families in cages?
How could a faith like that speak to the woman who is starving herself to be thin?
How could a faith like that speak to the ones who accidentally overdose or the ones who die by suicide?
Humanity is embodied. Our pain is embodied, and so are our struggles. We don’t need a God who floats around in a far-off mansion in the sky; we need a God who feels the hurt, who knows the ache, who understands the weariness. We need a God who plugs the bullet holes and feels the bony ribs, who heals with mud and spit, who shields our bodies with his own, who weeps, whose body tore, who cooked his friends breakfast, who knows what it is to choke out the words, “I. Can’t. Breathe.”
We need an embodied God.
So as Advent begins tomorrow, I’m not looking for the sparkly lights and the shiny presents. I’m not looking for angels singing in the sky, the joyful carols, the sanitized and white-washed version with the cherub child and a glowing halo.
I’m looking for the dirty manger, the stench of the stable, the mother who is leaking milk, the baby slick with fluid. I’m looking for the tears, the screams, the flesh, the exhaustion, the thin and holy places. I’m looking for an embodied God.
O, come let us adore him.