Monday, 10 December 2007

Advent Contradictions, a guest post.

It is a fascinating thing, editing and writing for a blog. The whole world seems somehow smaller, one interacts with people in an immediate way, carrying on conversations and sharing moments of each others life in a way which makes you forget that the small community of people sharing this with you are many thousands of miles from each other. It is a continual delight for me to read your comments and emails and I am touched that you choose to share part of your and my life in this peculiar, new way. It was to this end that I invited Fr Lee to co edit the blog with me all those months ago and it is to the same end that we now offer hospitality to anyone who wishes to share in the life of this blog and feels that they have something to say which, being the people of taste that our readers clearly are, they feel we would all like to share.
Everything starts somewhere and our first guest contributor is Thom Curnutte who edits 'Ad Dominum', a blog you can see listed to the right of this screen. We welcome anyone else to submit articles, through the usual medium of , maybe with a view to being a permanent contributor, posting occasional glimpses of whatever strange land you live in's liturgical life.
Advent Contradictions, Thom Curnutte.
(The attached pictures are of my parish church, St. Louis Catholic Church, in Gallipolis. While the exterior is bedecked for Christmas with a Nativity, the interior is still very much violet. The adornment of the exterior fulfills a civic duty by proclaiming to passers-by that Christmas is coming. The violet inside reminds all who enter that Christmas is not yet here, and that there is still time to prepare. It's a contradiction.)

The Advent mystery is a contradiction.

The purpose of our Advent observance, as Christians, is to prepare our lives for the coming of the Savior, whose coming was foretold. "Swords will be turned into plowshares," and "lions will graze with sheep." It was prophesied as a time of peace. A time when humanity could give up its struggles and embrace the God of Heaven who would come to us. St. John the Baptist made it his life's work to "prepare the way for the Lord."

The Hebrew people were expecting a King. A King who would release them from the tyranny and oppression of the Roman Empire. A King who would come in power, and restore the throne of Solomon, and of David. A King who would come in glory, and bring his people back to the true worship of God in the Temple. A King who would unite his people in strength, and whose hand would hold the entire world.

This image was not literally fulfilled.

This King, this Messiah, this Christ… came to us as a crying baby. He was born to a peasant family in a barn, of all places. Migrant farm workers came to see him, and to pay their respects. (Migrant farm workers who were probably thought to be quite mad, as they saw a star and supernatural beings.) His mother heard voices, and expected everyone to believe that her child had just "appeared," when everyone knows that this is not how babies are made. His father had to be madly in love with this woman to believe her.

The whole thing was not possible. How could this peasant child, born to poor, crazy parents, be the Great King who would usher in the prophesied age of peace?

Here is where we come in.

We, as humans, are made in God's image. Humanity is the crown achievement of all of Creation. Humanity, however, falls short. While we are created in God's image, and therefore we are inherently good, we allow our passions, egos, and our self-serving interests to separate us from the being the Creation that God had intended. Because God IS love, he sent his Son to us. Not in a kingdom to which we must travel, and not to some far-away, unreachable palace. No, the Father sent his Son to US- in the middle of all of our craziness. In the middle of all of our poverty, and selfish ways. Emmanuel means "God with us." The Christ came to be with us. Emmanuel came to our filth, and our lust and our passions, and our total and complete isolation from our Creator. He came to set us free.

This Advent of our Lord, this time of preparation, is no time to build fantastic palaces. It is no time to tell great tales of lordship. Our Advent is a time to look around, and see where and who we are. It is a time to see the goodness that is our essence, and it is a time to see how far we are from it, and how covered it is by the filth that we heap on ourselves.

It is a time to realize that our Great King, our powerful, glorious Messiah, is coming to us. He's not coming to set up his throne in a palace. He's coming to us in the midst of all of our sin and depravity. He is coming to the "barn" of our hearts, humble beyond belief, to guide us from where we are, to the image of his Father, in which we were created.

St. John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord. He wandered as a mendicant, preaching repentance. As ritual washing was important in this time in Hebrew religion, he was a baptizer. People came to John for baptism as a symbol of their conversion from the way that they had been living. John's call was to prepare the world for the coming of its King.

How do we prepare a way for our Lord, our promised Messiah, our Emmanuel? We prepare his way by preparing ourselves, because it is to us in all of our sin that he comes. God's selfless, humbling Love is coming to pitch his tent in our camp. It is our responsibility to tell the world about it.

There is no palace toward which we journey, and there is no court etiquette to learn. We prepare his way by telling his humble story, and making his coming known to the world. His coming that is not unattainable, but his coming to each and every image of his Father. To perfect them, to love them, and to re-claim them as the sons and daughters of God.

This is the season of contradictions. A great King, born in a barn. Humanity, the crown of creation, the very image of God, covered with the stain of our sin. This contradiction is the mystery that we ponder in Advent.

We prepare the Lord's way by making him known. This humble King is not coming in a royal caravan. He's coming to our brokenness, and asks only that we share it.

At Christmas, we rejoice in his coming. In Advent, we prepare for it. Save the celebration for our Lord's arrival, and use this Advent to make his coming known to all his Creation. Lead them to look on their inherent goodness, and the stains that cover it. Lead them to the manger in their hearts, where our Lord will come. Our voices should mingle with the voice of St. John the Baptist in our own wilderness of darkness as we cry out for the Light: "Prepare his way, and make wide his path!"