“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. … And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” - Luke 2:7, 21
The Son of God was born. He became an embryo, then a fetus, and was birthed onto the earth, into history, into time. He came from a long line of sinners, and entered the world in a shelter for animals. He was named Jesus, receiving at birth His destiny for a future that was already written, a future of fulfilling his role as Deliverer, Savior, Messiah, and King. But in these first moments of His life, what was God doing?
In taking on flesh, Jesus lives out for us what it means to be human, and how we are to relate to and worship God, our divine purpose. From the mere fact that God chose to enter the world in the same biological process other humans do, and live for a couple years as a developing infant, we can learn much of what it means to relate to and worship God. Infants are fully and completely consumed in the present moment. They are not aware of their past, nor are they worried about the future. They do not yet have the weight of a past, or burden of future expectations, they just are. This is where we commune with God, in the present moment, by just being. Jesus was in perfect communion with God as an infant, before He had redeemed his lineage of sinners, before He could comprehend his mission as Savior.
So often, when I am seeking communion with God, my mind wants to take me to one of two places: the past, or the future. The past is where I encounter my guilt and shame. Whether it be things I have done, things done to me, or even my family's origins. I seek to atone for my sin and hide from my shame through whatever means possible. Self-deprecation and denial are my go-to’s. Guilt and shame keep me from communing with God, so I fixate on my past and try to fix it. The future is where I encounter my burdens. The weight of responsibility for some undefined ‘mission’ I must do in life in order to hear “well done” on the other side of death. This weight of a lifetime of responsibility is crushing, and simply so heavy that I cannot move when I am holding it.
I’m sure many of you are borderline exhausted just reading that last paragraph; I had to pause for a moment after writing it. This way of trying to relate to God is laborious and tiresome. It leaves us weary and burdened, and the worst part is that our efforts are completely fruitless. We get no closer to communing with God. When I contemplate the infancy of Jesus, who was in perfect communion with God even as a baby, it is like a machete cutting through the dense brush of my heart and mind, creating an opening for the Holy Spirit to enter in and work. Jesus was in perfect communion with God as he was doing nothing but being in the present moment.
While we see this reality so clearly in his infancy, Jesus, and after him the apostles, shows us how to take that truth with us into adulthood. Living intentionally in the present moment. This is part of what I believe the apostles meant when they told us to live by faith. In order to avoid the traps of the past and future and stay in the present, in communion with God, we must trust Jesus completely in two ways. First, that our guilt and shame have been forgiven, covered, and forgotten because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And second, that we don’t need to do anything to receive God’s approval; that has already been accomplished by His death and resurrection. In essence, communing with God comes down to accepting and believing these two truths, opening our eyes to the reality that there is no barrier between us and God, He is already there with us in every moment.
What we find as we encounter God in the present, is that He begins to heal and restore our past, as well as carry the burden of our future. The weight of guilt lifts as we accept the truth that we are forgiven. The burden of shame begins to fall off as we see that His face looks on us and our families with love, and not disgust. The responsibilities of our future become light as we accept that at any given moment we need only focus on the tasks of one day. And in that place, in the present, unburdened by our past and our future, we commune with the living God.
-Mark Micheals was previously a CCO Campus Minister in partnership with Bellefield and Cornerstone