Repentance is not an end in and of itself for the sake of moral excellence (which only leads to a pious superiority). Rather, repentance is the removal of distractions that keep us from perceiving the presence of God within us and all around us. It is a preparation to see God in a whole new light and in the new reality.
Advent is a season of expecting the unexpected. This kind of preparation can be difficult when we’ve become too familiar with the trappings of our Christianity, mistaking them for intimacy with God. To counter this stagnation in the spiritual life, the Spirit often breaks into our lives in unimaginable ways, disrupting our routines and schedules.
“Many people have difficulty with the holidays because of the stress caused by commercialism. Some resign themselves helplessly to the consumer chaos while others hold out to the bitter end and refuse to participate in any way, making themselves “Christian Scrooges,” if you will. Thankfully, the ancient church gives us an alternative to this duality–the season of Advent.”
On the cross, we see an immense miracle—the death of God. As long as we refuse to follow Christ into this humility and forgiveness, our world’s history will be violent, and our personal stories will be identities defined by conflict and opposition.
In the Christian tradition, Jesus is seen as the summary of every imaginable image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), and at the crucifixion, this ultimate image of the unseen passes away in death. At the resurrection, it’s interesting that the image or appearance of Jesus is fluid and continuously shifting.
The “age of the resurrection” is one that completely dissolves the false image of a God that uses a “blessing and curse system” in which certain people are “blessed” because they have received children, prosperity, health, etc. while others are arbitrarily left out of that blessing or even cursed with tragedy.
As long as one remains exclusively in his or her “group,” he or she will never grow past the tenets of the tribe’s echo chamber. The call of Jesus challenges us to leave the neighborhood of our patriotism, religious affiliation, and family loyalties, and go outward to what’s unfamiliar and uncomfortable: “following Jesus outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13).
It seems there is a dialogue in the New Testament surrounding spiritual formation in becoming Christlike. One voice urges the follower to emulate Christ’s footsteps and virtues through willful discipline, while the other voice advocates that it’s the reality of the indwelling Spirit that forms Christ within us. In other words, we don’t become someone else: we become the child of God we’ve always been, “before the creation of the world.”
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