Advent Friendship Reflection, Day 21

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What kinds of communities form as a result of practicing friendship the way that Jesus and the New Testament writers imagined? Paul claims that the basis of community is, as he says in Philippians, having the "same mind" as Christ Jesus, who, 

though he was in the form of God,    did not regard equality with God    as something to be exploited, 
but emptied himself,    taking the form of a slave,    being born in human likeness. (Phil 2:6-7).
But what is the form of humanity that Christ takes on, as he is born into this world? For the Greeks and Romans, the ideal human form was to be prized for godlike perfection and beauty. the form of the free aristocratic male, who had time and leisure to exercise, go to the baths, and basically pamper and perfect his body. But as Paul describes it here, when Christ takes on the human form, it is not one of divine perfection, but of the empty and broken slave.

Jean Vanier, who passed earlier this year, may be one of the great theological thinkers and practitioners of friendship of our generation. His dissertation was on Aristotle's notion of friendship. Yet Vanier, who founded the L'Arche movement, practiced friendships in ways very differently than what Aristotle would have imagined, where friendship could only be practiced between equally high status elites. Vanier chose instead to invite two men with mental disabilities to live with him, starting a religious community and movement that would be replicated hundreds of times worldwide; hundreds of houses where adults with and without disabilities live together in community and friendship. Vanier's key insight is that our humanity is not revealed in perfection and achievement, but in vulnerability, sharing love unconditionally, and the willingness to humble oneself to care for and be cared for by another.

As you think about the gifts you are giving this year, are you giving with an expectation of reciprocity, or is your giving making you somehow vulnerable, or looking to the needs of the other above your own? As you look at your relationships, are they based upon perfection, performance, and admiration of beauty, or are they based upon vulnerability and the willingness share in one another's imperfections and brokenness? What does the Christ Advent teach us about our own humanity?

Each day of advent, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25, I plan to post a few thoughts on an aspect of friendship I learned while writing my book, Virtuous Friendship: The New Testament, Greco-Roman Friendship Language, and Contemporary Community, available on Amazon through this link. This will be a chance for me to share with you all a little bit from what I learned, while giving you, hopefully, a chance to take a deep breath during this busy season and do some reflection. Also, you won't have to secure another resource for Advent. I realize that you are all at many different places with regard to faith and belief, so use these reflections however you see fit. If you'd be interested in having me come speak at your church, lead a Bible Study, or even just Zoom or Skype in for a Q&A with a Sunday School class or other small group, let me know: doug.hume@pfeiffer.edu.

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