My kids were given an advent calendar by their Nan during half term and my 5 year old began a countdown to when he could start opening it. A countdown for a countdown for Christmas! In the same way Mary, Jesus’ mother, would have been counting down. It can be strange to consider the Christmas story must have begun nine months earlier; the calendars would have to be a lot bigger for a start!
It began with a moment which is called the incarnation and for me is one of the most incredible, joyful mysteries that Christianity offers to the world. When a women finds out she is pregnant it must be an overwhelming experience. To discover you have a new life growing inside you changes everything. In Mary’s case, it changed history. It was the moment God chose to come into the world which, when you consider all the ways he could have chosen, is almost the most bizarre one. To become man, He decided to be born like a man, to be vulnerable as an unborn child, to put his own life in the hands of a human. He did not impose himself on Mary; she had a choice, so even before the moment itself He had given the choice to someone else. He placed himself fully into our hands at the start of His plan to save the world, which, as plans go,would not be a start I would have chosen. He risked it all at that moment, but why?
He had to because Jesus wanted to become fully human and to be fully God. (The theology behind this comes from the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, but you can look that up in your own time!) This is an extraordinary claim, particularly mathematically: 100% God and 100% man. However, this is the mystery of the incarnation and one that is exclusively Christian. This was not God masquerading as a man, or a demi-god born of man and God. It is not a man earning his way to divinity by his good deeds. It is God humbling himself to share in our humanity, as the Nicene Creed puts it, and it is incredible for a whole host of reasons.
For me, what happened when Jesus chose to do this is that he has made being human a pretty good thing; in Church-speak, he has sanctified humanity. By becoming human, he has said it is OK to be human, it is good to be alive. In fact, when He first looked upon humanity He said it was very good! The incarnation means that this is no empty statement because He knows what it is to be human. He knows what it feels like on the days when everything is going well - the crowds are loving the miracles, his friends seem to get his jokes. On the flipside, he also knows what it feels like on those bad days - alone, abandoned, harassed.
He enjoyed a party and a meal with his friends. He argued and was irritated by them as well. He wept over the death of a friend and was moved to tears when he saw people suffer. He got angry at injustice and was surprised by people’s responses. He even got tired and hungry! He has experienced it, felt it all, first hand. He can identify with it and has blessed it by saying, it’s alright, I’ve been there, I know. Try reading the Gospel stories with this in mind.
This is why it is such an amazing mystery and why the joy of Christmas starts here, starts at the moment God became man, the moment of Jesus’ conception. By becoming human, Jesus gives us our humanity back as the ultimate gift every Christmas. Therefore, when you finally get to open the first door of the Advent calendar, enjoy it even more because you are alive, you are human and if it is good enough for God, then it is definitely very good for us.
(Check out The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton or Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge for more on this)