Christmas Garbage

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God...
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

 

One of my favorite Advent illustrations is a nasty one from author Michael Frost. As part of a conference for pastors and leaders years ago, Frost and his colleagues were invited to an old church building for a communion service. The building was beautiful — stone columns and stained glass windows. But it was empty — all the pews and furnishings removed. The entire floor of the church had been covered in heavy black plastic, and in the center of the room was a big pile of garbage. Frost says it wasn’t clean garbage, like office paper. It was kitchen scraps — smelly, juicy, and gross. 

Since there were no seats, attenders just stood around the pile of garbage, wondering what was going on. Then two worship leaders emerged in cassocks and led the group in a series of songs and prayers. Still no explanation of the garbage. 

And then, the two men in cassocks removed their robes, under which they were wearing bathing suits, and they waded into the garbage until they were waist deep in muck. One of them reached into the refuse and retrieved a bottle of wine. The other retrieved a loaf of bread (both, thankfully, sealed in plastic). And then they gave this explanation:

“We are about to receive communion, but today’s observance will be different than usual. If you want to receive the body and blood of Jesus today, you’ll need to remove your shoes and socks, roll up your pants, and step into this garbage pile. Because that is what Jesus has done for you. He removed his royal, heavenly robe, and he waded into the muck and filth of our sin-stained world.” 

The incarnation reminds us of the downward direction of our worship. The gospel doesn’t declare that humans can escape their predicament and clean themselves up. The Bible doesn’t say that God held his nose against the stench of this world and cherry picked people out of it — or that God loves the people who aren't dirty — or that God whitewashes our lives and our little Christian bubbles apart from the world. The good news is that Jesus has loved us enough to step into our garbage and offer us his body and blood. 

This is the message of Advent. This is the hope we celebrate.