Advent reflections, 2018

The theme of this year’s Advent reflections is “God with us.” I chose that theme to coincide with the 2019 celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Community of Christ Temple in Independence.

Advent 2018 cover

To download the entire Advent series for this year in booklet form (PDF 485KB), click the cover image, above. I will also post each day’s reflection to this blog, starting on the First Sunday of Advent, December 2.  The daily posts will “spill over” into the days following Christmas, since I wrote an entire week’s worth of reflections to follow the Fourth Sunday of Advent, but Christmas Eve falls this year on the day right after the Fourth Sunday.

Here’s the introduction to this year’s reflection series, as it appears in the booklet:

God with us: Jesus, Spirit, Temple

“The virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Emmanuel”—which means “God with us.”  (Matthew 18:23)

“God with us.” Traditionally, Christians have interpreted those words as referring to the Incarnation, the teaching that Jesus Christ was God made flesh—God living among human beings as a human being. This teaching is found in the New Testament (John 1:1-3, 14)  and is echoed, for those of us in the Latter Day Saint tradition, in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 8:13-14, 28-29). According to this teaching, Jesus was God with us. Christmas is a celebration of the Incarnation:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.
Hail the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
(“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”)

The New Testament teaches that after Jesus died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit came to be with Jesus’s disciples in his place. Like Jesus, the Holy Spirit is God, according to Trinitarian Christian teaching—which includes early Latter Day Saint teaching (2 Nephi 13:32; Mormon 3:29; Doctrine and Covenants 17:5h)  and contemporary Community of Christ teaching (Sharing in Community of Christ, 3rd ed., p. 14). In this teaching, then, the Holy Spirit too is God with us.

The theme “God with us” also finds expression in the biblical custom of temple-building. The Israelites built the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and later the Temple at Jerusalem, to be God’s dwelling place among them—a sign, in other words, that God was with them. In the New Testament, the Tabernacle and the Temple are used as symbols of the Incarnation: Jesus calls his body a temple (John 2:21), and John seems to allude to the Tabernacle when he says that the divine Word became flesh and “lived” among us (John 1:14), using a Greek word that implies, more precisely, living in a tent. Paul uses the Temple to symbolize the Holy Spirit in its role as God with us, telling disciples that they are God’s temple because the Spirit lives in them (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

Among the world’s Christians, the Latter Day Saint tradition has retained the custom of temple-building. Temples have developed different meanings and uses among different Latter Day Saint groups. But a fundamental symbolism from early in our tradition is that a temple serves, as in the Bible, as a “house of the Lord” and thus as a sign that God is present with the community of disciples (Doctrine and Covenants 94:4a-b). That symbolism applies as well to the Kirtland Temple as to the Temple in Independence, Missouri. The Temple is a sign of God with us.

An Advent pilgrimage to the Temple

This booklet contains a series of daily devotionals which I wrote for Advent 2018—the Advent season preceding the 25th anniversary of the Community of Christ Temple in Independence, which will be celebrated in April 2019. The devotionals can be reused in other years, but you may find them especially meaningful for this anniversary year.

The devotionals explore three intertwining themes: Jesus as God with us, the Holy Spirit as God with us, and the Temple as a sign of God with us. Over the four weeks of Advent, the devotionals tell a kind of sacred story by working through the following four concepts:

  1. God became human and lived on earth as Jesus.
  2. God continues to live on earth as the Holy Spirit, living in Jesus’s disciples.
  3. God, living in Jesus’s disciples, is working to transform human beings and all creation.
  4. The Temple reminds Community of Christ that God is with us, working through us to transform the world.

Because the devotionals culminate with reflections on the meaning of the Temple, you might think of the series as an Advent pilgrimage that leads you, metaphorically, to the Temple in Independence. There, on Christmas Eve, you will celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Emmanuel, our God with us.

The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in…  (Malachi 3:1, as quoted in Handel’s Messiah)

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