In his great pastoral work "Christ Plays in 10,000 Places", Eugene Peterson writes this:

"One of the seductions that bedevils Christian formation is the construction of utopias, ideal places where we can live totally and without inhibition or interference the good and blessed and righteous life. The imagining and then attempted construction of such utopias is an old habit of our kind. Sometimes we attempt it politically in communities, sometimes socially in communes, sometimes religiously in churches. It never comes to anything but grief. Utopia is, literally, "no-place." But we can live our lives only in actual place, not in an imagined or fantasized or artificially fashioned place." 

Further along, he continues this thought:

"A dehumanized Jesus allows us to develop a practice of love that has nothing to do with actual people. We are free to practice a love of God that consists of a mix of music, mountains, and stories that fills our hearts with inspiring thoughts and feelings without all the distraction and bother of people. A dehumanized Jesus is a dehumanized God-with-us that gives us license to customize a life of love entirely to our own convenience, without involving us in sacrifice or patience. Loving a dehumanized Jesus means loving in a way that has nothing to do with anything particular men and women are doing in our community. We become lovers of ideas and feelings, lovers of ecstasy and novelty. But certainly not lovers of the God who so emphatically revealed himself in human flesh and blood. And certainly not lovers of our brothers and sisters, at least the ones who don't provide us with intimations of sublimity or ecstasy.

In our celebration of the Advent and Christmas seasons, we meditate upon the miracle of the incarnation: the creator God who, in love, has given himself to his people clothed in flesh-and-blood humanity, for our sake and salvation. Among other things, the gift of Christ's humanity communicates definitively that it is not possible for us to love one another in THEORY, but only in the costly messiness of ACTUALITY. It is easy to wax poetic about love and community and the life of faith. But, all of our poetry and spiritual-sounding aspirations are for naught until they find life and breath in relationship with actual people; neighbors, friends, co-workers, enemies, family members, spouses and children. 

Community is messy. It is simply true that other people will be the most persistent source of frustration, pain and conflict in our lives; the closer the relationship, the more messiness we risk. I've never been disappointed by a mountain. I've never had my heart broken by a river. A walk along the rugged beauty of the Atlantic coast has never left me frustrated. But other people? People are a blessed mess, and life would be easier without them, in many ways.

But for all the glories of God manifest in creation, poetry, art - in the gift of those sublime and quiet moments we may experience along the way - the humanity of Jesus declares that the glory of God is most profoundly expressed in the blessed mess of relationship and community. As we stumble, together, in the footsteps of Jesus - in the frustration, friction, and disappointment of actuality - the miracle of grace finds its most meaningful canvas. And it is here, as the victory of Christ transforms our brokenness to beauty, day by day, that this grace becomes a visible and experienced glory. It is the community of Jesus - we, TOGETHER - that has been given to proclaim the Gospel to the watching world, that they may perceive in us a love that runs deeper than convenience, consumption and circumstance: the love, in actual fact, of God Himself.  

This coming Sunday, we will come together in our Table groups; to wrestle with and discuss the scriptures together, to pray with and for one another, and to experience the simple grace of a shared meal. While there is nothing particularly radical on the face of any of this, inasmuch as we do so as an expression of our people-hood in Jesus and in faithfulness to his Gospel, there is something of the miracle of grace in it. As we come together, we experience the "ordinary", actual glory of our God-with-us, proclaiming His goodness to the world until the day He comes again.

Thanks be to God!