Sunday posts will attempt to at least be ostensibly Advent-related from today until Christmas day. I hope you don’t mind. –b.
Let’s be honest, straightaway: if we knew whatever it was we actually hoped for, we would recognize it right away. Surprise would be supplanted by expectation, joy traded for mere satisfaction.
For this reason alone, a recapitulation of prophecy is necessary, particularly with regard to the well-perpetuated myth that the Tanakh prophets were foretelling the life of Jesus. If this were true, there would be no resistance, no betrayal, no Christ-event and no resurrection. Hey, there’s the Messiah everybody was talking about! Everything would necessarily be markedly different. That said, that’s not exactly why we’re here.
Advent is a beautiful Christian tradition, more mysterious and I would add meaningful than Lent–there’s no Despair Saturday now, is there?–recognizing the season of the coming birth of the God-man who would be savior. As alluded to in last week’s post–oh, a heart-felt thank you, first time visitors, for stopping by!–Advent is largely ignored around the fundamentalist sects amongst which I was raised, probably due to the inherent suspicion with which fundamentalists and garden variety Evangelicals hold toward the mainline Christian denominations. (From what I’ve seen, the feeling is mutual. Orthodox and Catholic evangelists ‘calling us home’, please, don’t follow our lead. It’s really unbecoming.)
After 30 years, I’m finally observing it. Kind of. The season is predicated on the precise fictions I mentioned above: the Hebrews waiting for the Messiah, Christians for the Second Coming, so it’s not exactly following along.
Back to the original point, though; if we knew what it was we expected, we wouldn’t be shocked or surprised by it. The Hebrews’ hope was never supposed to be in the Messiah, or else Jesus wouldn’t have been crucified (and if we are to take the common conception of prophecy seriously, the fortune telling of the Hebrew Bible would be confused and contradictory at best. No wonder naturalists and atheists have a field day, when we keep giving them straw men to take down.) Their hope was to be in God, in the covenant and in the mutual arrangement to bless and be blessed.
In the same way, the hope of the Christian is not to be in the future, a future that does not and cannot exist, but in the presence of the Holy Spirit and the surety we have in the Christ-event being sufficient for a reconciled relationship to God. In the same way, we are to bless and be blessed, light and salt; a star in the sky, guiding others to the mystery of hypostatic union, in the hopes that Christ is resurrected in all creation. In focusing on the not yet, we have abandoned the already, that which actually matters: our responsibility to be credible and thoughtful representatives of the gospel.
[EDITORIAL ASIDE: for the non-religious reader, and i certainly hope there are a few of you reading: while this web-space is designed to be fairly general in scope, i completely understand if you find this to be a little off your radar. you see, some of the faithful need a good trip behind the woodshed every once in a while. i’m sorry if the christians in your life have been, charitably put, jerkoffs. a lot of it is out of their control, since they’ve been taught things that put them in a kingdom of god that strangely enough resembles an ivory tower. thank you if you’ve made it this far, and i hope there are aspects you are able to take from this–and any of the theologically-oriented posts herein–that are meaningful to you. as you were.]
Advent, then, is indeed a time of preparation and reflection. Not to congratulate ourselves for a birth of a child we did not conceive–cue an imagined scene from Maury: ‘Joseph, the paternity results are in, and you are not the father!’ ‘yeah! yeah! that’s [expletive deleted] right! …oh, crap.’–but to recognize the fact that we are called to humbly interact with a world which could certainly stand for a measure of justice and compassion, the very reasons why Christ came to us in the first place. And perhaps to recognize the fact that we need to get our own crap in order in the process.
While I freely endorse the notion that Christmas is overrated when compared to the theological ramifications of resurrection Sunday, we can still apply the principles of the reality of the resurrection, particularly with Advent–a season which does a similar transposition with relation to the nativity. No one was anticipating the arrival of God con carne; likewise, no one is anticipating a revolution of Christian compassion in the world.
Two questions, then, in conclusion:
Why not? And why not?