If you’ll allow me to hop on my soap box for a moment, I’d like to offer you preachers an unsolicited theological plea for sanity this Advent season: Please, for the love of all things good and holy, do not preach about the death of Jesus for the next four weeks. It’s not asking a lot. You have 48 other weeks in which you could freely discuss the matter, which is more than enough time to cover all you can possibly care to say about it. Some of you (cough, mainliners, cough) are appalled that I’d even feel the need to say this. Of course we won’t preach on the crucifixion during Advent, crazy Danielle! Good for you. Move along, then. But to the rest of you, please hear me out.
Advent is the time set aside for us to ponder two specifically beautiful truths: that Jesus has come, and that Jesus is coming. (These are distinct truths. See my Moltmann Monday post yesterday.) Guys- this is MORE THAN ENOUGH MATERIAL for us to ponder. As I said yesterday, I think we should talk only about the first one. Our ideas about the incarnation and how they play out in the way we live our lives could use some beefing up, to be honest. I think we should spend four weeks declaring the beauty of a God who comes as a vulnerable child in a warring city to a broken people to show them what it can look like to be fully human. From there, and without wavering off topic, we have approximately one billion things we could say. God became human! What on earth?!?! Why? What does it mean that Jesus shows us what it means to be fully human? How can we be this kind of human, too? Wonder of wonders, how do we contemplate a being who is fully God and fully human at the same time? What does that mean for GOD, that God is now human? How did Mary navigate mother guilt when she yelled at her son who happened to be, you know, God? If Jesus is the face of God, then what can we say about God for certain? Why did Jesus turn up at exactly that point in time? Where can we see hints and “winks” that point toward Jesus in the prophets? How do these metaphors come to light in the face of who Jesus is and what he taught us? Can we sit in silence for half an hour and just ponder this one precious word: Emmanuel? If we claim God is with us, in what way is that different than how God was with us before, and different than how God will be with us in the future?
I could keep going, but you get my point. PLENTY of things to say, guys, without having to string up baby Jesus on a cross 33 years early. (Or, at the very least in lectionary terms, two seasons too early- Christmastide and Epiphany.) After that comes Lent, and you can be as depressing as your heart desires for 6 whole weeks before Easter happens. Jesus’ death gets its own season, and it’s two weeks longer than Advent. It’s really not that difficult to wait. Consider it this year’s Advent spiritual discipline: WAIT before sending Jesus up the hill to Golgotha.
On a more serious note, Advent and Epiphany have their own brutality to tell, and it probably ought to be mentioned, because it reminds us that there’s a price to pay for the collision of heaven and earth in this dramatic new way. It’s called the massacre of the holy innocents. God have mercy on all the mothers and fathers whose sons were brutally hunted down and murdered because God risked human frailty to be with us in the Christ Child, and because the powerful rulers of the world would do anything and everything to stop him. If there’s anything that points and hints toward what’s to come on the cross, it’s not Jesus in a manger. It’s innocent blood in the streets. You can talk about that and still be on topic. Ponder how terrifying it is that baby Jesus was entirely at the mercy of frail human hands while a paranoid and power-hungry king hunted him down. Kyrie elieson.
Advent and Christmastide are not about Jesus dying. They are about a God who came to teach us how to live. They are about how Jesus came to us, wrapped in swaddling clothes, to walk among us unarmed and unguarded, so that he could show us the way to the kingdom. We will see soon enough where the story ends. But let’s not hinder this beginning. God with us. In a totally new way than God had been with us before. That’s worth pondering for at least four Sundays, don’t you think?
*On a side note, I found a number of pictures I could have used for this post, but I could not permit myself to use them because they were APPALLING. Oh my word, guys: one of those pictures or videos is one too many. This creepiness has got to stop.