Bishop Mark Hanson: No ambivalence in this story

Jesus is the Yes pronounced upon God's promises

The season we have entered is one of homecomings on many levels - geographical, emotional, social and spiritual.

Just as Joseph and Mary traveled to their ancestors' hometown, many Christians live December as a journey to the emotional, social and spiritual home that shaped and nurtured their identity and faith. Our expectation and hope is for joyful reunion and a renewal of the bonds of love.

Even when winter snow, icy roads, fogged-in airports, work commitments or illness make travel impossible, our minds and spirits still revisit memories of gatherings with family, friends and neighbors in our homes. 

The Advent season, our monthlong journey to the celebration of Jesus' birth, is a homecoming of a particular sort. It is our return to the story where we discover how deeply God loves humankind - so much so that God took on human flesh to join the human family, to make a home with humankind.

It is our return to the story that tells us who we are and where God is leading us.

As with many of our holiday homecomings, there were some unsettling moments for Mary and Joseph at first. Neither of them expected Jesus. Their first reactions were something other than eager expectation when they first learned of Mary's pregnancy. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, her response was: "How can this be?" Joseph's reaction was even less welcoming. He resolved to divorce her quietly as soon as possible after the birth.

The story does not end, however, with Mary's and Joseph's ambivalent responses. God sent angelic messengers. To Mary, Gabriel gave the promise of God's Spirit. To Joseph, the angel gave the name - Jesus, the one who will save - that held the promise of the yet unborn child's life.

Writing years later, the apostle Paul explained how Jesus' arrival into humankind's history is not an ambiguous message of God's ambivalence toward us - maybe a curse, maybe a blessing; perhaps a benefit, perhaps a loss. "The Son of God, Christ Jesus ..., was never a blend of Yes and No. With him it was, and is, Yes. He is the Yes pronounced upon God's promises, every one of them" (2 Corinthians 1:19-20, New English Bible).

To live in Advent's hope is to live in eager anticipation of this homecoming where God arrives to give a living, in-person confirmation to the promises of forgiveness and life, reconciliation and peace, made long ago through the prophets. Jesus is God's Yes to you and me, the embodiment of God's unfailing commitment to be faithful to God's own word. In Jesus, God brings this confirmation even to the most intimate places of human life, into your homes and families, into your own flesh and bone.

With that homecoming in your life, where God reclaims the temple of your body, God's Yes also unites you to a larger community of Christ's body. Together with this global community of faith, your life is turned outward to the world in service of God's family business. Christ's body, including your congregation, is in the family business of bringing the light and warmth of God's presence to every shadowed and abandoned life. It is the business of liberating those who have been captive too long to the evil schemes of sin's servants. It is the business of restoring God's justice to the creation and opening the doors so all nations can share in the joy of God's abundant mercy.

In other words, God's homecoming in your life opens its promise, opens you to your neighbors and the world. Your body participates in the embodiment of God's Yes to the world. Your compassion gives flesh to God's presence in the world. Your hands serve God's work in the world.

Last summer the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly sounded the theme: We are a church that believes Jesus is our "Yes"; your life can be a "Yes" to others.

As we prepare to make our homecomings this month - to the homes of family and friends and to the Christmas story that holds unexpected promise - let us make the journey in joyful anticipation, ready to be brought into God's surprising Yes to the world.

[Taken with permission from the December 2011 issue of The Lutheran magazine, available online here.]