Don't Forget About the Spirit During Advent

Happy Moltmann Monday! Today’s excerpt is from The Way of Jesus Christ in a long section entitled “Spirit Christology.” As such, I pulled some introductory sentences and then skipped around to the remarks which would most easily and succinctly show you where Moltmann’s going in this section:

Jesus’ history as the Christ does not begin with Jesus himself. It begins with the ruach/the Holy Spirit. It is the coming of the Spirit, the creative breath of God: in this Jesus comes forward as ‘the anointed one’, proclaims the gospel of the kingdom with power, and convinces many with the signs of the new creation…….Spirit Christology is not set up in opposition to incarnation christology, for every doctrine of the incarnation begins with the statement ‘conceived by the Holy Spirit’………

In the history of the tradition there are evidently two different ideas about the way in which the origin of Jesus, as Son of God and Immanuel, can be told in mythical form. The first idea suggests that God brought about the miracle of Mary’s pregnancy through the Holy Spirit, that ‘power of the Most High’: ‘Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.’ This is a way of saying that God alone is the Father of Jesus Christ…God is to be declared the Father of Jesus Christ in so exclusive a way that the earthly fatherhood of Jesus has to be excluded. This corresponds in a very literal way to Jesus’ saying: ‘Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.’ (Matt. 23:9)…..

The second idea sees behind the human motherhood of Mary the motherhood of the Holy Spirit…The point of comparison for understanding the birth of Christ is not a human process of procreation and conception; it is the experience of the Spirit encountered by the men and women who are born again to become children of God…The history of his primal and original birth from the Spirit of God merely brings out the difference that he is fro the beginning and by nature that which believers become in his fellowship, through Word and Spirit: the messianic children of God…..

(Jesus) therefore comes into the world from the Father and from the Spirit, and with his coming God’s Spirit takes up its dwelling in the world; first of all in the messianic Son, through his birth- then in the fellowship of the children of God, through their rebirth (John 3:6, 1 Peter 1:3, 23) – then through the rebirth of the whole cosmos (Matt. 19:28). The birth of the messianic Son of God ‘from the Spirit’ is the beginning and the sign of hope for the rebirth of human beings and the cosmos through God’s Shekinah. That is why the indwelling of the Holy Spirit has to be told at the same time as the birth of Christ.

First things first: I wanted to share this section because the Holy Spirit, as per usual, gets overlooked in Advent. And if you know me at all, you know I do not take kindly to the Cinderella of the Trinity getting left out. And the Spirit gets left out all the time, even, apparently, when we are quoting nativity stories in which the Spirit is most definitely a necessary and active presence. This becomes a comment about virgin birth and not much else. And that is really sad, you guys. Because that is selling the Spirit’s role here WAY SHORT. That is relegating her to scrub the floors while the rest of us head off to the incarnation holiday ball. So first point: let’s invite her along to Advent and Christmas, shall we?!

So- here is a simple recap of what Moltmann is trying to say: We easily ascribe the Spirit an honorable mention when discussing how Jesus was conceived, and this says something about the Father. God is the Father of Jesus, definitively. I love how Moltmann says that the story tells us this in such a way that the earthly fatherhood of Jesus just falls away, because this other thing is so important. But- and this is the other point I really wanted to share- that is not the ONLY thing we are to notice about the role of the Spirit in the nativity story. The Spirit is not only the way in which we see God the Father definitively as Jesus’ father. It is also the way we see the Spirit as our mother, as the way in which Jesus becomes the firstborn of those who are invited to be the messianic children of God. This second aspect is so beautiful because it brings into Advent the full scope of what we are waiting and hoping for in the coming of Christ: in Moltmann’s words, “the sign of hope for the rebirth of human beings and the cosmos.”

What does the coming of Jesus mean? It means God has revealed Godself to us as a Father not only to Jesus but also, through him, to us. And it means also that God has revealed Godself to us as a Mother who is the Spirit of Life and the power through which all renewal, rebirth, redemption and resurrection will come to be.

So by all means, let’s celebrate and anticipate the coming of the Christ. But let’s not leave the Spirit behind.

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