There is no room at the inn... or at least no space for my weekly religion column in the newspaper this weekend. So there won't be one here either this week. But may God bless you and all your loved ones as the season of Christmas approaches.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published December 15, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
Throughout my childhood and early adolescence, my parents would drive our family to the nearby city of Fresno most Sundays to visit my "Oma." The name itself symbolizes the dual ethnicity of my clan, because it is German for "grandmother" and yet she had been born in Mexico. Love tied our two heritages together.
Her home, though small, never felt so to me, and it was filled with wondrous things such as the little black box of a wind-up gramophone that amplified music records through an elegant black horn.
Oma had broad metal bookshelves and a display cabinet that abounded in other mysterious or delicate objects. We were seldom allowed to play with her things of course, but for a child her home evoked the awe of a living museum. A sentimental magic lay in her cherished and thoughtful mementos.
Behind her home tall rose bushes and cacti competed for attention, and I'm unsure which delighted this boy more. Both offered their own particular beauty and pain.
One Sunday when I was perhaps 10 or so I discovered a lovely girl my age had moved in next door to Oma. We played and talked, and I surely had a crush on her. Whether on that visit or another, we exchanged addresses and promised to write letters.
She did so, but to my shock she confided she had cancer. Cowardly and selfish, I did not know how to respond to that and so I never did. I broke my promise and did not write back. I never did see her again either.
As my life endures in this world I find I collect many such memories. Like my Oma's curios, fine porcelain and more, they line the walls of my heart. By grace I hope they whisper wisdom.
We all have such regrets, and for these and more God offered humanity hope in the form of one like a son of man who yet was also the son of God. This God-man would not leave us hostage to past sins and failings, but would ransom us by paying justice's price for our dark legacies. So we Christians believe.
This hope was, appropriately enough, born of regret. The first prophecy of a rescuer can be found in the part of the Bible shared by Jews and Christians – at the very beginning in fact.
Speaking to the Devil after humanity's first parents rebelled against God, the proto-gospel passage of Bereishit/Genesis 3:15 reads: "The Lord God said to the serpent... 'I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.'"
Another translation says rather that the serpent's head will be crushed.
The wandering rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) recalled this passage indirectly by publicly addressing his mother by the unusual and seemingly impersonal title of "woman" on significant occasions (IE John 19:26 and 2:4). This wasn't a typical term of endearment of a son for his mother, but rather a reminder of his mission... and to an infinitely lesser degree her own mission as well.
The relationship between the Devil and its accomplices on one hand and the woman and her offspring on the other is one of strong, active and passionate opposition. Between evil and goodness there would be no compromise. Humanity would be liberated from the self-imposed tyranny of its own proud rebellion.
Yet this turnabout would be long in coming. Whether one interprets the Book of Genesis literally or not, humanity would clearly wait millennia before a liberator would be born.
This long period of hopeful waiting for the fulfillment of God's merciful promise is part of what many Christians remember and indeed relive (insofar as that is possible) during the season of Advent that leads up to the celebration of the Christmas season beginning the evening of Dec. 24.
One of my favorite carols for this Advent time has long been, "O Come O Come Emmanuel." The lyrics recall key prophecies of the Bible that Christians identify as pointing the way toward the Mashiach (aka Messiah, Christ or "Anointed One"). The title and refrain itself repeats the symbolic name for humanity's savior, Emmanuel, which means "God is with us" in Hebrew.
We Christians believe that God indeed came to be with us and to remain with us. We were not left orphans or abandoned to our ill-chosen fate. May we choose to make Advent, and every day of our life, a time when we in turn choose to be with God.
"O come, thou Day-Spring, come and cheer / our spirits by thine advent here. / Disperse the gloomy clouds of night / and death's dark shadows put to flight. / Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel / shall come to thee, O Israel."