Joan Osbourne’s one-hit wonder What if God was one of us? continues to play in my head, nearly 20 years after its extended reign at the top of the pop music charts. It was the Call Me Maybe of its day, that song you’d make fun of but secretly hope to hear every time you turned on the radio.
But Osbourne’s hit had an almost haunting quality to it, asking questions skeptics and Christians alike ponder, especially at Christmas:
What if God was one of us. Just a slob like one of us. Just a stranger on the bus. Trying to make his way home?
Its refrain halted the pondering, instead making the declaration each of us hopes to make in our darkest moments…
Yeah, yeah, God is great. Yeah, yeah, God is good.
It’s a song that, despite the popular commercialization and trivialization of the spiritual, asks profound questions, questions that led often to conversations with the skeptics who I worked with in a Chicago audio/video store back in the day. What if God wasn’t some angry disciplinarian, perched above on his heavenly judgment seat, waiting your next blunder? What if God is, in fact, not distant at all? How would it change what we believe? How we live? How we speak to God?
Week 4 of Advent asks these questions. Taking center stage – Mary – a young, unwed teenager girl who is chosen to carry God Incarnate to full-term.
67And Mary* said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (from Luke 1)
There can be no more clear commitment to relationship and union with human beings than this – God taking up residence not just on earth, but inside the womb of young woman in a patriarchal and religiously buttoned-up society. This was scandalous.
God, in becoming one of us, turns religion and spirituality on its head, daring us to believe that this world and, indeed, human beings are God’s delight, God’s beloved, God’s deepest commitment. It dares us to believe that God came to earth, accomplished his work of reunion through Jesus, and sent the Spirit to dwell in us forever. Theologians over many years would do doctrinal gymnastics to explain (and sometimes explain away) this overwhelming fact. Some even say God can’t possibly look at us because of our sin, so he covers us with Christ. No, Advent and Christmas remind us not just that God can and does look at us in the eye, but that God makes our very being his dwelling place (1. Cor. 6:19).
In the midst of the frantic anxiety of this season, stop and ponder. Do you need anything more than what you have already? God dwells in you. Or, in the words of St. Catherine of Genoa, “My deepest me is you, Oh God.” Christmas is not merely about three wise men and a manger scene from long, long ago. No, Christmas is about right now. God has taken up residence in your very being, and delights to bless you as Mary was blessed many years ago. Can you dare to believe this?
Joan Osbourne asks, What if God was one of us? Our response, God is. This is the gift we’re asked not just to receive, but believe, at Christmas.
– How do you perceive God? As distant? Angry? Near? Kind? Talk with someone about this, and reﬂect on how or why your image of God was formed in this way.
– How can believing that Christ not only loves you, but dwells in you, change the way you face your anxieties, disappointments, or loneliness?
– Take some time to pray that God would allow you not just to contemplate and experience the profound reality of his union with you, but live it out with greater joy and freedom.