If you remember history or science class from schooling, you may recall a unique period of human history several hundred years ago. For ages, humans believed that the earth was the center of the universe. Everything else supposedly orbited around the earth. Top thinkers, political elites, and even the religious leaders were convinced of this geocentric model of the cosmos.
Things began to gradually change with people like scientists like Nicolaus Copernicus in the 1500s. He argued for what is known as a heliocentric view of the universe, that the sun is placed at the center, with all planets orbiting around it. As you might recall, this idea was rejected extensively at first. People like Galileo were even challenged by church authorities for teaching such contrary views! But ultimately, the Copernican Revolution changed the way people understood astronomy.
The “earth-centered” view might sound like a goofy sort of thing to believe, but for the longest time, it truly made sense with what people observed here on earth. Nowadays, we send people and objects into space on a regular basis. We can also track various movements not only in our solar system, but even millions of light years away. We take it for grated that we know about our orbit around the sun.
Theologian NT Wright once examined this unique chapter of scientific history and related it to how we formulate our faith life. Wright argues that we still struggle with having a “me-centered” sort of vision in regards to salvation, theology, and the purpose of Jesus Christ. So often we limit Christianity to mean having a personal relationship with God. Jesus cleanses us from our sins. We have a ticket to heaven. (Notice that the focus on the previous few sentences is not God, but rather our own human interests!).
This of course relates to how our culture celebrates the Christmas holiday. Even well-intentioned churches can fall prey to materialism and the belief that physical presents and such will bring about the most happiness. Too often we forget the true celebration and meaning of Christmas by overlooking the humble, revolutionary birth of Christ.
Now don’t get me (or Wright!) wrong. Having a personal encounter with God is incredibly powerful and impactful. But notice that having a personalized, privatized sort of faith places God as second to me. It is tempting to simply treat religion like a personal self-help mechanism instead of truly worshipping God for who God is.
In reality, when we follow Jesus, hopefully we believe him to be the most important thing above all else. Salvation should never be limited to your own enjoyment of things like eternal life and forgiveness. Rather, salvation is a celebration of what God does for us. NT Wright once put it this way in his book Justification:
God made humans for a purpose: not simply for themselves, not simply so that they could be in relationship with him, but so that through them, as his image-bearers, he could bring his wise, glad, fruitful order to the world.
This changes how we envision faith itself. God does not exist to give you first place. God is not an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” kind of transactional deity. Instead, God saves creation to bring about more enjoyment of God’s love. So this Advent season as we prepare for Christmas, instead of being me-centered, let’s be more Son-centered.