This Common Life
This Common Life Podcast
(re)enchanted : advent week 2

(re)enchanted : advent week 2

god is with us even in suffering

In week two of our advent series, I reflect on the complex, difficult realities that surround a season focused on hope, peace, and goodwill. In return, I argue for an enchanted faith centered around God’s uniting with us through Jesus Christ.

Through the indwelling and power of the Holy Spirit, we are united with Christ and He with us. We participate in His glory, and He enters in our suffering. This, Augustine argues, is the basis of our salvation: “that God would choose to be incomplete or lacking without His Church.” This, of course, demands the incarnation of God.


Growing up in a conservative Christian home, “enchanted” was a bad word. It described witches and potions, spells and evil forces. As a child, I would check out the Harry Potter series from the library or read stories about enchanted gardens because I was curious about the magic in these stories. 

Little did I know that I wouldn’t have to reach any farther than the Bible on my bookshelf to find one of the most enchanted stories ever written: the birth of Jesus. This story isn’t one of magic and potions (although there are magi and precious elements), but it is nothing short of mysterious, delightful, and awe-inspiring.

The season of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, is one of great anticipation. It is a month of waiting on the Lord and celebrating a great mystery of the faith: Christ has come, and Christ will come again.  What a glorious thing! Amidst our present troubles, we know that one day Christ will come again and reign victorious!

Yet, for many, this season is not one of anticipation. Rather, it is filled with dread and fear. Some might be hesitant to see estranged family divided by political, social, and racial tensions in our country. Others might be afraid of spreading COVID to their parents, grandparents, and other loved ones. Some might be feeling the anxiety of traveling across the country, and many are feeling the burden of holiday expenses after another difficult financial year.  

Over the next four weeks, I hope that this season might provide hope and nourishment in this difficult season without dismissing the tangible concerns and felt anxiety among Christians across our nation.

When I speak of an “enchanted faith,” I am not likening the Christian life to a fairytale. No, this is not a story where relatively little harm befalls the protagonist besides a lost slipper. Rather, an enchanted Christianity acknowledges the fear and despair of our lived reality, the chaos and messiness of life. Yet, from the depths of our trials and tribulations, we can “smile in the mystery” of God’s action in the world. Our enchanted faith speaks to One who has the power to defy the limitations of our finite reality and create something new—ex nihilo, out of nothing.

As James, the brother of Jesus, writes: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3, emphasis added).

How do we know that the testing of our faith produces anything good? Because our God took upon the form of His creation and came to us in the depths of trial: God did not come to us from the highest ranks of the Roman Empire but in a feeding trough. God was not raised in the comfort of a palace but as an exile in a foreign land. Jesus was not employed as a great politician but ministered as a rabbi without a home. And, as we know, Jesus was betrayed by his own people and murdered upon a cross.

Yes, our Lord was born into the trials of our world.

But when did we forget the mystery of this incarnation? When did our faith become disenchanted? When did God’s assumption of His own creation become a passing thought, rather than an all-consuming reality? 

For many Christians, especially in the Western world, the mysteries historically embraced by the Church have been replaced by an emphasis on empiricism and rationality. Rather than praising God because He is beyond our comprehension, we develop systems and categories to place God in. We have tried to make sense of a God far beyond what we could ever imagine. We have sought to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ an intellectual ascent rather than a spiritual transformation.

So what would a re-enchanted faith mean for us today? Amidst the anxiety of this Christmas season and cultural moment, what might re-emphasizing the mysteries of our faith offer us that a disenchanted one cannot?

Most importantly, a re-enchanted faith allows us to understand our mysterious and mighty God as simultaneously sovereign over all, and yet present with his creation’s suffering. In the same motion that we may raise our hands in worship of an all-powerful God, we can embrace God’s presence in and around us as we carry the weight of this year on our shoulders – a global pandemic, racial injustice, political tensions, and all.

Saint Augustine describes this mystery through the doctrine of totus Christus, “the whole Christ.” Drawing from the Pauline analogy of the Church as the Body of Christ, Augustine argues that in a very real, mysterious, and organic sense, the Church is the corpus Christi manifested on earth. Through the indwelling and power of the Holy Spirit, we are united with Christ and He with us. We participate in His glory, and He enters in our suffering. This, Augustine argues, is the basis of our salvation: “that God would choose to be incomplete or lacking without His Church.” This, of course, demands the incarnation of God.

Augustine’s totus Christus relies heavily on embracing another mystery of the faith: the Trinity. This divine mystery proclaims that God exists as three in person, co-equal and co-eternal, yet one in essence, nature, power, action, and will. It is through this mutual indwelling and divine unity between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that God draws near to us. Bishop Kallistos Ware notes how the mysteries of God, like the Trinity or the Incarnation, lead us to an unending depth of knowledge. As much as we might know about God, there is always more to know. Our embrace of enchantment and mystery, then, free us from the heavy yoke of attempting to explain the mysteries of a God far beyond what we could possibly imagine. We may delight in the Trinity, in the deep things of God, and wonder at the incarnation simply because they proclaim a reality greater than our ability to comprehend.

Finally, as we begin this unique season of Advent, might we see how a re-enchanted faith opens us to the endless possibilities of worship. In other words, because our God is so great, we will never cease to create new ways, find new words, and gather in new spaces to worship. Our enchanted faith inspires us to find innovative ways to gather, commune, worship, and give thanks.

While we, out of love for our neighbors and care for our souls, may need to maintain physical distance this holiday season, might we hold on to the truth that God is with us, and that we are united together in the totus Christus, the fullness of Christ.

Yes, our God is near, very near.

Praise be to God.

This Common Life
This Common Life Podcast
Reflections, interviews, and conversations about the "common," the "good," and our life together.