Dec. 8, 2016
Dear Advent Pilgrims,
It is easy to forget that none of the gospels were written by Currier and Ives. We like to envision that the first manger scene was tranquil and serene, with lowing cattle and twinkling angel light. All was calm, and all was bright. But the gospels portray a birth narrative replete with danger and paranoia, filled with the stress of census crowds, the threatened throne of an angry king, and the pulsing contractions of painful labor.
Make no mistake: the first Advent was neither silent nor calm.
Yet, our tendency is to sterilize the story for our comfort. We favor plastic cheer over steady discipline, and sedation over somber reflection. We prefer a God who coos and cuddles, rather than one who demands and challenges. Jesus, after all, came to us as a baby: innocent, cute, and charming. How could a God who gurgles and grins be anything but adorable?
The problem, of course, is that constructing a god who pleases us, who offers on-demand, real-time service for our desires, is nothing more than a cosmic vending machine, and nothing short of idolatry. And the only cure for that kind of false veneration is to open ourselves up to the possibility of surprise. To a God who comes in ways we least expect.
In other words, a God of Advent.
I’m reminded of the scene from Will Ferrell’s comedy movie Talladega Nights, in which his character Ricky Bobby offers grace before a family dinner. His prayer is as silly as it is self-centered, but it does embody the kind of idolatry we assume when we worship a god we create on our own terms:
RICKY: Dear Lord Baby Jesus, or as our brothers in the South call you, Hay-zoos, we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Dominos, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell. Dear tiny, infant Jesus – –
CARLY (Ricky’s Wife): Hey, um, you know, sweetie. Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him baby. It’s a bit odd to pray to a baby.
CAL (Ricky’s Friend): Well, look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m saying grace. When you say grace you can say it to “Grown Up Jesus,” or “Teenage Jesus,” or “Bearded Jesus,” or whatever Jesus you want.
CARLY: You know what I want? I want you to do this grace good so that God will let us win tomorrow.
CAL: Dear tiny Jesus, with golden fleece diapers, with your tiny, little, fat, balled-up fists –
CARLY’S DAD: HE WAS A MAN! HE HAD A BEARD!
RICKY: Look! I like the baby version the best, do you hear me? I win the races and I get the money!
CARLY: Ricky, finish the grace!
RICKY: Okay. Dear 8 pound, 6 ounce, newborn, infant Jesus – don’t even know a word yet. Just so infant and cuddly, but still omnipotent – we just thank you for all the races we’ve won and the 21.2 million dollars I’ve won…We thank you for all your power and grace, dear baby God. Amen.
Thankfully, there is no gospel according to Currier and Ives, or Ricky Bobby for that matter. Forget about a helpless baby with golden fleece diapers and fat, tiny fists. This is a God who comes to us with power and strength, with command and authority, and we best be ready when that time comes.
It’s an idea powerfully proclaimed by Alfred Delp, the Jesuit priest who stood up to the Nazi regime and was eventually hanged for his treason. In his sermon “The Shaking Reality of Advent,” he summons an awakening to Advent’s true intent:
Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves. The necessary condition for the fulfillment of Advent is the renunciation of the presumptuous attitudes and alluring dreams in which and by means of which we always build ourselves imaginary worlds. In this way we force reality to take us to itself by force – by force, in much pain and suffering. This shocked awakening is definitely part of experiencing Advent. But at the same time there is much more that belongs to it. Advent is blessed with God’s promises, which constitute the hidden happiness of this time. These promises kindle the inner light in our hearts. Being shattered, being awakened – only with these is life made capable of Advent.
This Sunday, we continue in Advent worship series that will “shatter” and “awaken” us, so that we might prepare for a new day that is dawning in our lives. We will focus on the story of Mary, and learn to recapture a sense of wonder that comes from surrender and obedience.
Join us as we rediscover a God who calls, not coos, and shocks us out of our steady holiday diet of tinsel and toys in order to be a people of discipline and preparation. May we continue to observe a vigilant, attentive Advent. And may we allow this God to surprise us, to shake us, once again.
Grace, Hope, and Peace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist