By Fr Luke Fong
It always puzzles me to read about how one of the most common arguments that atheists have is that we Christians have created a God who is a control freak and is an ultimate moral police hovering over our every action. Preaching about the contrary each time I ascend the Ambo at Mass to tell my congregation that this is a toxic and very erroneous view of God doesn’t quite reach the ears of those who need to hear the message, largely because if you are an angry atheist who believes in such a toxic narrative of God, the last place I would find you at is in a pew at Mass. Sometimes, I must confess, it does seem like I am preaching to the choir.
The very act of creation attests strongly to how much God is interested in us. Why else would he create if he did not care? Of course, we have some anthropomorphism going on here when we say this, but given the limitations that we human beings have, it is the best we can do. When we humanly create, be it with our artistic talents or creative skills, we do it for a multitude of reasons. Our ego could want our names to be immortalized, or it could just be that inherent need to see something of ours lasting beyond our own physical years. But because God is love, he has no ego as such. All he does stems from what and who he is. In Thomistic philosophy, there is no distinction between what he is and the things he does, unlike us. His essence is his act, and his act is his essence. So, if he is love, then all that he does is predicated on this fact. No ego needs, no hidden agendas.
But this God of ours who created us is not one whom many atheists make him out to be. He is certainly not as some Deists see him – akin to a clock maker who winds up the clock and then distances himself from the very thing he created and lets everything happen without his personal involvement. The Christian understanding of God is so amazing that this God who created everything out of nothing actually does get involved in its working, and the incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas attests to just how involved he is. The Te Deum prayer puts it succinctly that he “took our nature to save mankind and did not shrink from birth in the Virgin’s womb.”
Advent always invites us to look both ways – with one eye looking back at the tremendous mystery of the incarnation each Advent is a reminder to each of us that our God has always been so interested and so involved in his creation, and the other eye looking forward to the fulfillment of God’s plan at Christ’s second coming.
At this time of the year, there are often numerous efforts made by various organizations to reach out in a special way to the poor and underprivileged. In my own parish, something that began as an effort to help a cancer patient (who is not a Catholic, but lives within the parish boundaries) with very little means to meet the cost of his medical treatment has snowballed into a major makeover of his entire home when it was discovered that his home, in which his elderly parents live as well, is in a state of disrepair and neglect. Various people stepped in and in a couple of weeks, these three people will go back to their completely renovated apartment newly fitted with fixtures that will enable both the elderly and those requiring palliative care to live more comfortably.
I am so proud to see that the community has rallied round to be involved in the lives of people outside of themselves. When understood correctly, the incarnation is God’s entering into the messiness of our lives and bringing the needed help humanity had been longing and aching for due to our fallen state. Unable to help itself, it had waited patiently for God’s merciful intervention. If we but realise that our stepping into the lives of others gives them the hope the first Christmas gave all of humanity, God will be made present and manifest. Advent not only makes Christmas real, it also makes Christmas possible.
There is a common resistance to want to fast track the waiting that Advent puts us through. The shopping malls and streets are already shouting Christmas in late October, and the radio stations are blaring Christmas songs so much so that by 25 Dec, we have head then ad nauseam. It is sad to see so many rushing to tear down Christmas decorations on 26 Dec, when we are actually at the true beginning of Christmas joy. We seem to be unaware that the ennui of Christmas in the air is directly caused by our own inability (or unwillingness) to wait until Christmas to truly celebrate appropriately. I wonder just how much of our own sadness and frustrations in life are similarly caused by our inability to wait for what should be waited for without fast-tracking due to our own impatience. Delayed gratification, unfortunately, hasn’t been humanity’s strongest suit.
God has always shown that he isn’t in any hurry. Spiritual masters worth their wisdom are always imparting the need to live in patience and calm.
At the first Christmas, God did not suddenly appear in the form of a fully-grown human being. Instead, he came as a helpless tiny infant and this attests strongly to the truth that there is godly virtue in going through the challenges of human development.
He wanted to be that involved in our human struggles. Doesn’t this give us all great Advent hope?