Some Advent Notes

I love Advent and Christmas. (In case you missed it, last time I announced that!).

I wrote a bit about it here, for Rhythms – partly as an exercise in reminding myself that I’m not just waiting for Christmas television, mulled wine, and days spent with my feet up on my parents’ aga reading a pile of fat books… and partly as a reminder of how unbelievable the festival of Christmas – of God’s incarnation and love – must seems in so many places.

While in my life, remembering that the exciting thing we’re waiting for is the incarnation of God, the arrival, of true, everlasting hope, in the world can be almost forgettable, for others it must seem completely unbelievable. What does God even look like, in Syria, or Ferguson?

There’s also some great writing about Advent in other places of the internet. Fr’instance, here’s Nadia Bolz-Weber on Christmas and pain and the real world, much better than I could ever put it:

the world into which Christ was born was certainly not one of a Normal Rockwell painting. The world has never been that world. God did not enter the world of our nostalgic silent-night, snow-blanketed peace-on-earth sugar cookie suspended-reality of Christmas. God slipped into the vulnerability of skin and entered a world as violent and disturbing as our own. Here in this Christmas story, the story of Herod, there simply is no mistletoe and reindeer. This Christmas story of a despotic ruler slaughtering children out of little more than his personal insecurity somehow never makes it onto wrapping paper or Christmas cards, yet the slaughter of the Holy Innocents is as much a part of the Christmas and Epiphany story as are shepherds and angels.

I love how the season brings out the poetry and the mystery of faith and God – even in spite of the pain, which Nadia writes about. If there’s one complaint I have about the church I attend at this time of year it’s that we don’t spend time in that place or trust it to speak to the people who may only come into church at this time of year.

Anyway, here are some pieces I’ve been reading that I’ve really liked.

(1) Five Things You Didn’t Know About Christmas, by Billy Kangas. I love his assessment of Luke as propaganda and his appreciation of it. Also this description of Christmas.

Christmas is a sacrament; it is a time in which we remember the highest outward sign of the inward grace God offers to the world. God  gives expression of his love in the universal language of flesh and blood, and offers the world a grace that communicates the totality of human existence – humanity itself.

(2) The Excessive Miracle of the Virgin Birth (and Should We Believe it?), by Kyle Roberts. Because I’m always up for anything that thinks about fact and truth and faith, and I appreciate the overview of some of the discussion about this w/r/t the virgin birth, which I’d never really thought about before.

Is a theology of Jesus Christ, a vision of the meaning of Christmas, unaffected by the question of whether the virgin birth really happened in space and time–in ‘real’ history? Karl Barth said, “No” (or, Nein, rather). For Barth, to relinquish conviction in the actual time and space occurrence of the virgin birth is to diminish the meaning of the Christmas mystery.

(3) The Virgin Birth: Fact, Fiction, or Truth?, by Nadia Bolz-Weber on the same topic, but with a different slant. I’ve really enjoyed reading her this year, because she makes me think about what church is and what it does for us, without making us the most important thing about church.

In joining the church in a confession of faith – whether in the Sanctus or in the Creed – we say, this is our story. And to say something is our story is a powerful, life-shaping thing. But it is not YOUR story. It is not YOUR creed. It is the CHURCH’S story, the CHURCH’S creed and you and I are a small part of the church.

If you do not intellectually assent to the idea that Jesus’ mom was a virgin, it’s ok. I will believe it for you. Sometimes that’s what it means to be the church. We carry this faith on each other’s behalf. Some days you might have to believe it for me.

(4) We get to Pick our Treasures, by John Richmond on Mary’s choice to treasure certain memories about the birth of her son.

Mary did not pretend that hard circumstances did not exist. She met those challenges head on throughout her life, but she did not elevate those difficulties and obstacles to the status of treasures. We can deal with problems without treasuring them up.

(5) Watching Their Flocks By Night: An Advent Meditation on Vigilance and Violence, by Richard Beck, discussing the way that Christmas reorients us towards a different idea of what is important in life by looking at what being a shepherd was like in ancient Israel and the kind of mindset that is likely to have engendered:

Leaving their flocks? Risk economic ruin? This is something you don’t do in a herding culture.

Is there something out there more important than money? What are those shepherds looking for?

Think about how all this might apply to us. For most of our lives we stand around protecting what is ours. Our neighborhoods, borders, homes, 401Ks, income, jobs, status, reputation. And on and on and on. We’re like those shepherds, keeping watch over our flocks, even at night. We’re tensed, anxious, fearful, paranoid, suspicious, watchful, and ready to pounce. And all this makes us violent people, in small ways and large.

That’s the ethic of this world. It’s a herding ethic. Protect what is yours because someone is coming to take it away from you.

It’s a culture of fear and violence.

And so the angels come to us and proclaim “peace on earth and good will to men.” But how is that going to happen? Well, the story in Luke 2 shows us the way:

We follow the example of the shepherds.

We leave behind our flocks and our lifestyles of violent vigilance.

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