Advent meditation

I have been doing theology long enough now to have felt, quite powerfully, what might be called “the theological itch.” In its wholesome expression, this itch is simply the call of wonder: there is always more – much more – to know about God, His Word, and His works, and we His admirers can’t get enough. We long for new insight into His character and His ways with men, and so our theology is never at rest, even at its most satisfied and contented. But what I have in mind when I speak of this “itch” is actually something quite unwholesome. It is the impulse of an intellect that needs novelty to stave off boredom; that is always daydreaming in order to survive the quotidian; that regards the known as conquered territory and lusts imperially for the as-yet-unknown. There is a cure for this itch, but it is not to be always expanding the boundaries of knowledge (right and good as that may be in its place). It is rather to live, to embody, to practice what one has seen and heard and learned. Take prayer, for instance. One may know a great deal about prayer, what it is, and how God would have us pray. But if a man becomes bored in learning about prayer – begins to think within himself, “I know this already” – then he had better start praying at once, or all his learning will be for the worse, not the better. What is needed to ignite the study of prayer is not information but (if we may put it thus) incarnation. What is needed is not experimentation in the mind but enactment in the flesh. God Himself may become a tiresome object of study, if learning does not issue in worship, contrition, rejoicing, and obedience. The Logos must take flesh.

This, I think, is one of the blessed fruits of the doctrine of the Incarnation: it reminds us that even as we will for all eternity lose ourselves in the ocean of the knowledge of God, this knowledge is not simply a surface, without length or breadth, over which we may row our tiny barks and never reach shore; it is also a bottomless depth, and we may precisely where we stand sink ourselves in fathoms of glory by embracing and enjoying and enacting what we have already received. There is a call to press on to know the Lord, but the call is not only to go onward, but also to go deeper. Lost in the mysteries of the universe and the universe’s God, we may sit down and feast on bread and wine from His hands. Lost in the wonder of His covenant, we may cradle a child in our arms and teach him or her the wisdom of God. Blinded by the glory of the Three-in-One, we may love one another as He has loved us, bending down and washing grimy feet. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word took form, took shape, took a body in time and space; and if our theology cannot do the same, than it is not according to Christ – and it will wander in darkness. It is time to put down our books and pens and notebooks, and eat the Christmas feast. And may our God bless us, every one.

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