Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
Advent is about experiencing God. Yes, it affirms the depths of God’s love. Yes, it fulfills hundreds of years of prophecy. Advent, however, goes deeper. It asks you to come and see, to draw near and be transformed.
Advent says there’s no such thing as a second-hand experience. Stories about Jesus (or reading amazing devos like this one) will hardly change you. You must allow the Word to become flesh in your life.
When we commenced this ride a week ago, we started with mystery. This was intentional. Why? Mystery must come along for the ride if the end result is an incarnational experience.
Now that we’ve settled into a good pace, I want to introduce you to another Advent barrier, equally as destructive to an experience of Christ.
The ego has made its way into more recent conversations about transformation and spiritual growth. It’s no new discovery, however. Only different terms. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, described the same state using the term “flesh.”
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:16-17)
What is your ego? It’s who you think you are. It’s your personality, if you prefer. Interesting, personality comes from the Latin word “persona,” which refers to a mask or disguise. Said another way, your ego is a mask that covers who you really are in Christ.
To experience God, you must let go of your ego. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Letting go of the ego’s desires feels a lot like taking up a cross and dying. But there is no other path to transformation.
The Spirit and the flesh are in conflict, as Paul says. The more the ego is in control, the less space we have for the Spirit. And vice-versa. So, at all times, we must be cognizant of which drives our thoughts, actions, desires, and perceptions about the world.
For reference, here’s an un-exhaustive list of the ego’s standard operating principles:
- The ego hates change.
- The ego loves immediate gratification.
- The ego has no patience for paradox or mystery.
- The ego is highly sensitive and easily offended.
- The ego wants to be seen as special, unique and autonomous.
- The ego is fueled by fear and defined by who or what it is against.
- The ego only sees the world through the lens of power, privilege and prestige.
- The ego loves (idolizes) the past.
- The ego lives in self-preservation mode.
- The ego must always be right.
- The ego is highly competitive.
- The ego despises intimacy.
- The ego measures its worth using external metrics (successes, accomplishments, image).
- The ego believes its political views, group, country, theology is THE correct one.
If you skipped over these points, shame on you. Compiling them took me many long, laborious hours.
I’m joking. Took me an hour or so.
Anyway, I arranged the points in no particular order. Except for number one. It’s first because the refusal to adapt, evolve or change is the defining characteristic of the ego.
The willingness and openness to change is an important litmus test for spiritual growth.
Take a look at the different players in Advent. From Mary and Joseph to Elizabeth and John the Baptist to shepherds and wise men, you meet folks with a lot of different backgrounds and worldviews. What unites them – the ones who experience Jesus at least – is their willingness to accept something different, to remain faithful in the absence of facts, to be curious when it makes no rational sense.
What unites them, in other words, is the absence of ego.
Must I remind you how ludicrous this whole Christ birth really is? Would you trust someone who told you she became pregnant without having sex? If you were a shepherd, would you have abandoned your livelihood (the sheep) and travel to some remote location to see a baby, even if an angel told you this baby was the Savior of the world? If you were a Magi, would you have traveled a long distance to bring expensive gifts to a child you most likely don’t acknowledge as Lord? If you were John the Baptist, and God called you to preach in the wilderness, eat wild locusts and baptize people (let’s not forget, baptism was a new thing), would you not at least entertain the idea that you’re a few crayons short of a full set?
If you wouldn’t call yourself crazy, I would do it for you.
Everyone who crosses the path of baby Jesus exercises an uncanny level of humility and a willingness to adjust and change. They’re okay with trusting God, with taking risks, with vulnerability. They’re okay with unknown and the potential of humiliation.
They’re okay with abandoning their ego and taking up their cross.
As long as your ego calls the shot, you will not experience Christ. The ego disdains Advent, in fact. It’s just fine with a second-hand faith and stories about Jesus. Because any step towards the manger means death for the ego.
Advent or ego? The choice is ours.
In what ways might you be resisting Advent (the coming of Christ) in your life right now?
God, my greatest desire is for your kingdom to come, first in my life and ultimately in the world. Where my ego blinds me from your Presence, restore my sight. Where my flesh resists change and unknown, give me the courage to take up my cross. I want to experience Advent. I’m not content with anything less. Amen!