I walked into a room covered in rose petals, with bouquets of roses in containers placed all around the room. My love – whom I had been dating for about 2 months but already knew I would marry – had invited me to the Medicine Ball, a fancy affair for students at his medical school in Richmond, Virginia. Yet I hadn’t thought his dorm room, our short stop on the way to the big event, would be so…decorated. I learned then what has been reinforced regularly over our 13 years together so far: he shows love through grand gestures and over-the-top generosity. The tree house he built our daughters last summer is epic. When we met with our pastor about the congregation’s capital campaign, we left having pledged more than twice what I anticipated. For my 40th birthday, he planned nearly 3 weeks vacation in Hawai’i for our family, including my birthday and Christmas with my dear friend who lives there. When we discussed buying a hybrid car, we ended up with an all-electric Tesla. My husband sees opportunities aligning as fraught with meaning, recognizes a chance to make a significant difference, and makes grand gestures. It is one of the things that I love most about him.
I am more of a detail person. The ordinary maintenance of keeping us alive and connected must be done too, and sometimes I think I am the only one who sees the needs. Someone must notice what we need from the store, obtain the next size of clothes and shoes for the children, put the ethnic holiday celebrations on the calendar, remember relatives’ birthdays, and write the check for the offering plate. Afterward, I sort through the (literally) thousands of pictures my husband has taken, and organize our memories into blog posts, a calendar and photo books from our many adventures. This is my specialty. I sometimes find myself at an impasse in the face of major purchases or donations, having learned from childhood to be frugal and cautious, but I know exactly what must be done to get everyone out the door in the morning with lunches packed, and how to curate our memories of the significant days later.
For abundant life, this family needs both of us. Both of our tendencies have positives and negatives, and believe me when I tell you they can cause friction. Yet this Advent season, I find myself wondering about our different gifts and related hazards and how God manages to do and be both or all of those things for us. And I marvel, at how our life-giving abundant faith depends upon it.
We are waiting to celebrate the grand gesture of God bringing into the world a human incarnation of the divine. Yet that big event, and the staggeringly generous action of God becoming human, produces a human Christ child who needs holding and nursing and raising into adulthood. Jesus enters into our daily scramble for survival and search for love. Since God the Creator is not present in the same way as human parents, God made sure that Jesus would have Mary and Joseph for his human family. Almighty God would be in Jesus’ life for clarity about his identity. At the end, God would bring Jesus alive again after death, the grandest gesture of all. But for the daily life, God counts on people like Joseph, Mary, Jesus, and later the Holy Spirit working through Jesus’ followers. Without the Incarnation and the Resurrection, what would Jesus’ life mean? It is not enough for Christ to simply be a good teacher who preached peace and love. But a human embodiment of God, who makes solidarity and new life real is who I need. Yet at the same time, the repeated compassionate actions, shocking teachings and passionate outbursts of God-in-the-flesh made the grand gestures trustworthy. The God who became flesh and blood like us is invested in healing our bodies, or protecting them from those who try to self-righteously stone us. The God who can raise Jesus from the dead brings healing and hope in this life when we are agonizing over the death of a relationship or our autonomy under an oppressive power. We need God’s everyday care to trust in the grand gestures, and vice versa. So God did both for us.