I had the opportunity, in my late twenties, to take a number of theology and Scripture classes. While most of those classes were informative and interesting, there were a few classes where I experienced moments that had a significant and lasting impact on me.
One such moment was during a lecture on the prophet Isaiah. The professor was talking about Isaiah's call to the prophetic ministry and the vision he had of God, described in Isaiah 6. The seraphim that surrounded the Lord's throne are crying out, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!"
My teacher explained that the better translation into English would be "Other, other, other is the Lord of hosts!" God is Other, beyond our ability to define or understand. God simply Is.
'The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.'
"I am," says the Lord to Moses. The various categories we use to explain and describe do not apply to God. He is not measurable, not confined within space or time, not a being that exists as one among many other beings (even if we think of him as the greatest of those beings). Rather, he is Other.
All the more wonderful and incomprehensible, then, that God would choose to enter into our physical world, "emptying himself and taking on the form of a slave, coming in human likeness."
The prophet Zephaniah foretold that the Lord would be "in your midst." In Philippians Paul writes that, "The Lord is near." Again, John the Baptist told the people that he is coming into their midst. How can this be – that the one who is "I am," who is "Other," who is the ground of our being would enter creation in physical form to restore the unity between God and man?
Every year, the liturgical calendar circles around again, like a great upward spiral that revisits this same place once more, this retelling of God's physical arrival into the material world, into human history, in the form of an infant.
God became flesh. Love has arrived. We get another chance to get it right, to glimpse a little more deeply the incredible mystery, miracle and gift of Jesus; to stand with greater awe before the truth of God's love made visible; to be drawn more deeply into love again with the God who is here in our midst, who is near.
Our true king comes vulnerable and unable to protect himself, trusting himself to the hands and love of two of his creatures, illustrating by his very life how we are to give ourselves to one another in love, and thus learn to give ourselves to God.
The Lord is near, he is in our midst. That God would so love us as to take on our form; that he would give himself to humankind in such tangible measure; that our human nature would be raised to such a dignity – it is beyond our ability to understand.
We cannot grasp, we can only stand in wonder and give ourselves in return.
(Kathleen Giffin firstname.lastname@example.org)