Advent is a terrific time for Christians to reflect upon our relationship with Jesus and to ponder an important question: Should our relationship with Jesus be more about adoring Him or imitating Him? The Infancy Narratives and Christmas Carols of this season certainly put the emphasis on adoration. And why not—every baby is worth adoring and extoling. We could stare at the wonder of a new-born for hours, as some parents do, just contemplating the miracle of creation and human life at its infancy. And this child, the long awaited Savior and center of human redemption, is worth all the more veneration and exaltation.
Yet some theologians, from Richard Rohr to Philip Gulley, suggest that the heart of our connection to Christ should not be about worship but imitation. They remind us that Jesus is, first and foremost, a model for living; only secondarily is He an object to be worshipped. This notion is overwhelming throughout our Christian Bible from The Acts of the Apostles to The Epistle of James where we read that faith without works is not really faith and that prayer without actions that manifest it is not actually prayer at all. When Jesus established His church, saying to Simon Peter, “You are the rock—and upon this rock I will build my church,” he used an Aramaic or Hebrew term that translated to Greek (the language of the Gospels) as “ekklesia.” That term translates to English as an assembly that is summoned to live a particular way; it does not translate into ideas that most of us conger up when we hear “church”: places of worship, cathedrals, chanceries, hierarchies, physical, spiritual, or administrative structures… These theologians are probably right: Jesus would not want to be adored; He would want to be imitated. He wants us to live according to His way, following His example in our own time, culture, and circumstances.
It’s certainly easier to adore Him than imitate Him. It’s no wonder that many Christians—think of the infamous Ricky Bobby here—are much more comfortable praying to, and connecting with, the little baby Jesus who is so cute and adorable, rather than the adult Jesus who tried to convince the people of His time and culture to live differently, to be more giving of what they possess, to be more helpful to those who suffer, to be more kind to all whom they encounter. Advent offers us magnificent opportunities to do such things: grocery collections to feed the hungry, toy drives to provide gifts to underprivileged children, donation boxes for gloves, socks, and winter wear to care for those in poor living conditions. Jesus invites us to imitate Him, to follow His example, and to establish an ekklesia in our midst.
There is certainly a proper place for adoration of Jesus. We have 168 hours each week and it shouldn’t be a big sacrifice to assemble together for just one of them in praise and thanksgiving each Sunday. As an assembly, we venerate His message of love, we receive His challenge to serve, and we recommit to doing our best to take it to the streets, to the places we live, work, learn, socialize, and interact. Like staring at the miracle and mystery of an infant, we look upon His glory and cherish this great treasure. But the adoration is meaningless unless we imitate what He gave to us. He gave everything. In this Advent season, let’s find ways to give something—give what we can to enrich our world in imitation of The One whom we adore.