Recently, I heard someone on the CBC Radio program Quirks and Quarks, explaining that our brains are hardwired for bad news. Apparently, bad news is what we most readily receive and respond to. It’s an evolved form of self-protection, a way to avoid the perils of previous mistakes and missteps; once bitten, twice scared, as it were.
I have to wonder if this is why, culturally speaking, we have so wholly swallowed and enthusiastically responded to the bad news that the best we can be is a “self-actualized individual.” We are only what we make of ourselves Sartre told us and that terrifying possibility has had an impressive hold on us—“I’m the hero of this story,” the popular tattoo proclaims without any sense of irony. We have heard this bad news and done everything in our power to avoid its attendant pitfalls and limitations. At the end of most days our success in this project is tenuous at best. And yet, this bad news seems to dominate most of our cultural imagination, to the point that it’s often dressed up as good news, or at any rate, the best news we can come up with.
Which makes the prophet’s words, which are truly good news, that much more surprising: the one born unto us, laid in a manger will not simply be an individual, but Emmanuel, “God with us.” God chooses not to stay at a distance—complete as only God can be by himself—but instead, comes to be God with us. This is how God will be known: personally, intimately. We have not, in the end, been left to our own devices, but have been called into relationship with the One who is able to do abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine.
Holy God, you have called us to give up ourselves in order to receive you. In this season, call us again that we might receive you fully and walk in light beyond our imagining. We pray in the name of the One who comes unexpectedly close. Amen.
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