Text: Matthew 3:1-6
We continue our Advent journey with space as our theme. Traditionally the church has focused on time more than on space. The liturgical calendar begins with the season of Advent, the so called, time of waiting. We are told to prepare ourselves for Christ to be born again in us and in our world. Our waiting reaches to the peak on Christmas Eve as we gather to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. The festive atmosphere gradually disappears after the highest season. There is a fundamental problem in this chronological pattern of celebration. By setting aside a special time, we tend to think that the rest of the time are just ordinary or less important. Time, then, is divided based on a hierarchical model – we put more value on a certain time. However good our intent is behind the ritual of hallowing a certain time, it is extremely hard for us to be free from the conventional way of observing time – past, present and future.
One of the well-known Christmas carols, Joy to the World sums up our dilemma with time.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room. And Heaven and nature sing. Heaven and nature sing. Heaven and Heaven, and nature sing.
There is a fundamental separation between heaven and earth, the ruler and the ruled, God as the subject and the creation as the object. The Lord brings joy to the world, which has connotation that it is incomplete, lacking and in despair until it welcomes the Saviour. The birth of Christ is the moment when the creation becomes whole. The crucial moment when the heaven and earth kiss each other becomes momentary or at most the annual event, and therefore loses the power to change us.
By focusing more on space, we can reclaim the true meaning of the incarnation. It’s not meant to be a one-time event. It’s not meant to be time bound. It means that God is forever the God with and for the flesh, the earth, the world. It proclaims that we live in God’s world. This broken world is God’s body. So we are to love God by loving the world and everything in it. We care for one another, and share what we can with those in need not because we have more and they have less but because loving our neighbours is how we love God. There is no other way. We can’t help but share when we realize that we are all interconnected. The birth of Christ reminds us that all life is sacred. The humble place where Jesus was born teaches us that every place is sacred. This profound theology opens up endless opportunities for us to celebrate God’s presence right where we are including the space unknown to us.
We can call the unknown space a wild space. It is a space that cannot be confined by the conventional way of thinking and doing. It refuses the top-down approach, the power imbalance, and any form of hegemony. We all have this space in us. Our varied life experiences, diverse identities and different perspectives, they all contribute to create this space. Our differences become a window of opportunity to see the world differently so we can live differently. For example, a loss of your loved one has brought you a lot of changes. It changed how you see the world and how you live in the world – it changed who you are. If you live with a chronic illness or if your significant other has one, it can also change how you engage the world. If you had to leave your home because it was not safe to live there or if the community you belong to has experienced a collective trauma losing one after another it can change your world upside down. We all have cracks one way or the other that make us feel like we don’t fit in anymore. The good news is that where we don’t quite fit not only gives us problems but also possibilities.
The climate crisis was caused mainly by human behaviours. It is the result of how we have been living based on a certain lifestyle – individualistic, greedy, consumeristic and market-oriented. Now that such a worldview has proven to be not only unsustainable but also evil and sinful because it causes harm to the body of God, we desperately need wild space more than ever.
My transformative learning opportunities have often taken place in a wild space. When I was walking in the park the other day, two baby foxes – one was black and the other was brown – were running into me. It was foggy and early in the morning, so I couldn’t really see them until they came really close to me. They were cute and fearless. Thankfully they ran the other way before I was found by their mom. They reminded me of my boys. It was the day when I was going to travel to attend a workshop out of town. The two young foxes gave me the assurance that everything was going to be okay with my boys. On another day, I encountered a fox. (It could be their mom) She saw me first. We were about 30 meters apart from each other, standing still and holding our breath. At first, I wasn’t sure what kind of animal was staring at me, but soon recognized the long stunning yellow tail. While I was overwhelmed by this gorgeous creature, it started barking. I was sorry for invading her territory, wild space. On another day in the bleak midwinter I was walking on the frozen river. I was amazed by so many deer congregating in their safe space – a cave-like hollow in the riverbank. It was the largest number of deer I’ve ever seen at once.
The image of wild space is fascinating. It is a place where human beings have never reached or occupied so there is no dominant culture or oppressive system created by us humans. It doesn’t need anything to become complete because it is already whole. It is a place where each creature is acknowledged as it is with its unique beauty. Here the gift of life is affirmed and differences are embraced. And there is no subject and object relation, but only I and Thou relationship. We all have a wild space within ourselves. In order to see differently and to live differently, we must let our wild space come out from its hiding place. Our wild space becomes Advent space where we can celebrate the presence of God more fully and more audaciously.