What were we expecting?

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

As chores go, there are a few which I absolutely dread. Doing laundry. Scraping ice off of my car. Updating my website. I’m not talking about this blog, which is relatively maintenance-free, I’m talking about my painting website which I haven’t touched since January, almost a year ago. I have new paintings that I haven’t posted or even photographed. I have other projects that I am neglecting to highlight. And even if it were up-to-date, the overall design is just sloppy. As a painter I am average. As a webmaster I am awful. I just don’t enjoy it! But this whole marketing thing is something I plan to work on in 2008, even if it means paying someone to do my website. Graphic designers, place your bids.

Anyway, today is the third Sunday of Advent and after a wonderful service at church I was really hoping to write a post about it. But it’s not easily coming to me. Which is frustrating, because for the first Advent in my life I feel like I am actually approaching an understanding of this season, what it means to anticipate the Messiah and wait patiently for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Yesterday I did a small amount of Christmas shopping. I’ve been trying to stay at smaller, independent shops this year, partly to avoid the crowd and also to support local businesses. Well, for a reason that is unimportant here, yesterday it became necessary for me to brave not just one but two major shopping malls. By some Advent miracle I was able to find parking spaces with ease and keep narrowly avoided car accidents to a minimum. And when the wave of industrious holiday shoppers hit me inside the doors of Barnes and Noble I was able to smile to myself and think, “This is not what Christmas is about.” It’s not about buying things, but it’s not about admonishing consumerism either. In Girl Meets God, Lauren Winner writes:

“Christmastime may be the hardest season for churches. We are inured not only to the Christmas story itself, but also to our pastors’ annual rants against consumerism. Every creative attempt to make the season meaningful, to steal it back inside the church, away from the shopping malls and cheesy radio stations, has been tried, and most of those creative attempts have proved wanting. Perhaps the problem is that we don’t know what the meaning of this holiday, of Jesus’ pushing into the world, is. If we did, we wouldn’t have to worry about consumerism; if we knew what the Incarnation meant, we’d be so preoccupied with awe that we wouldn’t notice all the shopping.”

Right, so if it’s all about the pending Incarnation and not about anti-consumerism, then what does the Incarnation mean? Surely God could have found a way to save us without getting dirty down here in the business of being human. God Incarnate spent nine months holed up in the womb of a girl–that was his advent. We look at that and say, “How nice that God would make himself relatable to us!” And, “How humble, to be born in a stable!” Of course, that’s what it means, but is that all it means? In the sermon today it was suggested that God had another motive for writing his story this way. The Israelites were expecting a mighty King to deliver them from Roman oppression, to bring justice and peace in that order. And along came a baby, and it’s as if God said, “No, we’ll do this my way, thank you.” We were reminded this morning that Jesus didn’t come to meet our expectations, but to shatter those expectations and make room for God to do things the way he knew best. When Jesus came we didn’t need the swift administration of justice. In fact, if justice had come before the crucifixion we would all be a lot worse off. The Gentiles would be condemned and the Jews would forever need priestly intercession. I can’t imagine we would rush to the shopping malls to celebrate such disappointment. I don’t think we would even sing carols. No, it had to be in this order. First we needed a savior. Justice will come, I’m sure, but in its rightful time. I think that’s what we are waiting for on this side of the Incarnation.

Anyway, I realize this has been a mostly incoherent post which is what I meant when I said it’s not coming easily. I have plenty of thoughts about this stuff but it’s tough to articulate in a concise couple of paragraphs. You indulge me so by reading this far, really.  Here is where I should say something light and witty to remind you that I do occasionally offer something entertaining here, and that’s why you’re not about to delete me from your bookmarks, right?

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