Authenticity is a troubling word. So many people seek this elusive “something” in a commercialized, often deeply impersonal world, yet there is no clear definition of it except that old one about “knowing it when we see it.” Many in the Church keep trying to offer programs, life-styles, purpose-driven worship – the list is endless – to the rapidly growing ranks of unchurched and post-Christian members of our society, thinking that somehow the solution is found in getting people into our institution. We seem implicitly to say: “if only they saw what we do, they’d join up instantly.” But would they? Is that really authentic Christianity
The story of God’s coming to be with us in Christ may be called the beginning of God’s authenticity for us. When Jesus was born, God came to us; He didn’t wait for us to come to Him. That’s the first lesson of authenticity in faith. We must go out to where the people are, where their real lives are, not wait for them to come to us so that they may put on what is for them an utterly foreign way of life. Whenever we say “Emmanuel” in Advent or Christmas hymns and readings, we are saying “God with us,” and it means God and whoever would be His ambassador must go out from the walls of Heaven or the Church into the world and show what it is like to be authentically alive – without props or the security of institutional backing.
But this leads to the next (and truly precarious) lesson for those who would be authentic to the Gospel in our time and place: we must become utterly vulnerable, completely available, deeply open to what the unchurched person says. Just as we cannot demand that others come into the Church first, so we cannot assume that we alone have something to say. When Christ was born, God entered into a profound act of listening, being vulnerable, and openness to humanity; God has never said that period was over.
Each Advent and Christmas we run smack-dab into this fact: in Christ, God has bridged the divide between the Divine and the human. God as become completely authentic to us. Now is the time of our response. Now is the season of our looking beyond the narrow habits of our familiar patterns. Now God is with us, Emmanuel. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Are we willing to be like God and walk among others, listening to them, serving them – truly dwelling with them not as “the other” but as fellow-heirs of the God who reached out and became, in the deepest sense, authentic?
Faithfully in the Word-made-flesh,