We live in a society where much of what we do and have centers around transactions. We get pay checks for the work we do, we get bills for the services we use, and we pay for the products we consume. Despite Christian theology of Grace, especially prominent in our own Presbyterian tradition, the transactional way of living can creep into our theology and our spiritual life, many times more subtly than overtly. For example, if I am a good enough person God will let me into heaven, if I pray enough and give enough God will bless me in return, if I follow all the rules then I’ll have a good life and nothing bad will happen to me, if I believe every right doctrine and have a correct theology God will grant me eternal life. The Church teaches that God has loved us from before we were conceived in our mother’s womb and we are reminded in scripture that it is by grace that we are saved (Eph. 2:8-9) and that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). Despite these teachings of hope we can still slip into a transactional model of relating to God. Unless we have a different model of how to relate to God, we will run the risk of living out our faith based on transactions.
Every December we enter the season of Advent, a season of waiting for Jesus, for both his birth in Bethlehem and when he comes again in glory. Throughout scripture we see many names and titles for Jesus; one that we normally see only at Christmas is Immanuel, which means God is with us. I love this name for Jesus and wish we used it more frequently outside of Advent and Christmas, for it reminds me of God’s activity in this world and in my life. The name Immanuel invites us into a model of life with God that is not transactional in its basis, but rather presence based. Throughout the history of creation God has been present. God walked in the garden with Adam, visited Sarah and Abraham by the Oak of Mamre, and lead the people of Israel through the wilderness by pillars of cloud and flame. In Jesus God took on flesh and dwelt among us, experiencing everything human life has to offer and now God is present with us through the Holy Spirit and through the love we share with one another. The basis of our relationship with God has never been one of transaction, but has always been one of presence. This is the gift of Christmas; this is what we wait for in Advent, God’s presence with us in the person of Jesus.
May you experience God’s presence this Advent season in Word and Sacrament, in prayer and praise, and in love shown to you by friend and stranger alike. May you be the presence of God to those around you, loving all people as Christ loves us.