The Extravagance of Advent … in Unlikely Places
Part 1 of a weekly Advent blog written by Doug Kelley and Ted Wueste (The Extravagance of Advent)
A few years ago, when Ann and I (Doug) were a tad younger (no kids yet), we were bumped to the penthouse suite when checking into a hotel. Giddy, like kids, we played in our full dining room, enjoyed the sweeping views of the bay and city and, most incredible, called our friends on the telephone next to the toilet (pre-cell phone days!)!
Extravagance. Over the top. Luxury.
Not exactly images that call forth the creche of Advent season. Bereft of adornment, save a single bright star, Jesus enters our world in a stable, surrounded by hay and farm animals – Mary, Joseph, and Jesus all trying to stay warm. Yet, it is in the simplicity of this simple space that God reveals his most extravagant self.
Our eyes are often drawn to the shiny object on the ground but surprisingly, it is in the dirt surrounding this bright bauble that we discover the extravagant … the life of abundance we all hope for. It is frequently in the messiness of life when we are stripped down to nothing that we see. We see that it is not more stuff, more acclaim, more influence, or more power that gives us the life we desire, but it is when we have nothing and are then filled with a sense of completeness and wholeness. When our lives are filled with the shiny objects and/or the pursuit of those shiny objects, there is little room for anything truly meaningful. Maybe it will surprise you note that the US, compared to other wealthy countries, has the highest suicide rate and highest rate of hospitalizations for preventable conditions and avoidable deaths. Our wealth has not always been life giving.
In the incarnation, we see the God of the universe modeling an alternative for us. When God the Son took on human flesh, He didn’t do it as a king riding in on a white horse but as a baby – vulnerable, cold, unable to speak, and completely dependent upon someone He had made. In fact, when He did ride into Jerusalem years later, it was on a donkey – a clear sign that He was not a conquering hero in the classical sense but a humble servant.
We’re told in Philippians 2 that He emptied Himself, and it was out of that “emptiness” that He loved us so extravagantly. In many ways, we have been shaped and formed by Western culture to believe to that life is found in more things, more experiences, more stimulation. The reality is that “more” often confounds our ability to see what is really life giving. We adopt a scarcity mentality and believe we never have enough, rather than an abundance mentality in which we see that we already have everything we could ever need. (cf. Ephesians 1:6) Indeed, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Or, another way to put it is, Blessed are those living in God’s extravagant Spirit.
Both of us (Ted and Doug), have been traveling a road that includes cancer these past few years and, surprisingly, we have found abundance over and over again – even in the midst of chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, and multiple hospitalizations. Seemingly unlikely places … and yet, the extravagance of God has been abundantly present in our experience.
Is it possible that God’s extravagant love has been waiting for you in some unlikely places, as well?
Prayer: Lord, give us eyes to see the ways that you are present with us in unlikely places.
Question for reflection: Take a look at a few places in your life where you have thought it is unlikely that God will show up. Is it possible His extravagant love is lurking their waiting for you?
Reflect on the words of Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, a help in trouble and abundantly present.”
In my (Ted) new book, Welcome Everything, I explore more of that journey through cancer – certainly, a very unlikely place.