The words the centurion says to Jesus are perhaps too familiar. ‘I am not worthy to receive you’, he says, and we repeat them in the Mass. I tend to think of these words as a statement about me, when in the context of the gospel, they form part of a declaration of faith in Jesus. The centurion’s unworthiness is not the point. His belief that Jesus can and will heal his servant is the astounding thing about him.
And yet the words perhaps ought to sound different in Advent. In the early church, one of the questions that skeptics asked about Christianity was whether it was fitting for God to become human. The transcendent God, so the objection ran, would not (should not) have become so intimately involved in the messy, material world of human bodies and emotions. To be born, to experience human need, to die–all these were thought somehow beneath God. But theologians in the first centuries of Christianity were emphatic: that is exactly what God did, without sacrificing transcendence or dignity. On the contrary, by taking flesh and dwelling among us the Word made possible our participation in the divine life. Our worthiness or unworthiness is not the point: in Advent we look forward to receiving Christ, knowing that as we receive Christ, God receives us.