Resisting Advent

Originally at the now-defunct blog reamofpaper.

His fists flexed closed as he said, “I don’t want a God you can hold in two hands, one if you’re experienced at holding babies!  I don’t want a God covered in afterbirth or crowning out of a young woman.  I don’t want a God wrapped up in a blanket covered in meconium.  I don’t want a God clutching at a woman’s breast.  I want pomp, and God-type things.  I want thunder and rain and lightening, well-placed too.”

I agreed with him more than I thought I might.  I added, “You know, I don’t want to have to wonder when Jesus first realized that he was God.  If he had to come as a baby, I want for him to be lying in a tidy crib, looking up toward the heavens remembering playing golf with Gabriel or cosmic bowling with Lucifer before he fell from the sky.  I agree, I want grandeur.”  My friend was gritting his teeth, empathizing with me.  His eyes were becoming wild, indignant.  I went on about a God defined by creation and thrones and by heaven, and for all my wishes I was left with a God who was hungry and cold and subject to needs they way my friend and I are subject to needs.

My friend is younger than me and has only one child.  I explained how my own children come home from school and make a pile of coats and hats and gloves in my sacred space.  “Could you imagine a God who had to learn to hang up his cloak?” I asked him.  I could see that he didn’t think out his argument much past “no crying he makes.”

Like Job, he gave the Lord some advice.  He suggested doing the talking donkey trick again, because that was cool.  “Do that instead of becoming a baby.  Or just skip the whole baby bit altogether and just show up like Abraham’s three visitors.  That’s been done successfully!”

“Listen, perhaps in the two thousand years we’ve had to talk about it, we’ve sanitized the scandal right out of the story.  When we talk about incarnation, we’ve cleaned up the whole scenario and topped it with a halo.”

This is what we do.  We talk about stuff.  We are critics without the proper credentials to supply the critique.  Instead of rejoicing in the virgin birth, we want to know what it’s about.  Instead of gaping at the sinless human existence of Jesus, we try to make it about our efforts to duplicate the same feat.  And we end up with a very clean God who is most-likely put-off by our meager offerings.

Jesus as a human baby means explicitly that God is in your corner, not in spite of your failings – because of them.  He is in your corner because you are disappointed.  Because you are the moral equivalent of an adolescent male.  If God were anywhere other than fully in your corner, he’d have remained in heaven, cloaked in mystery, firing down the occasional lightening bolt or stayed seated upon a mountain, smoking, where only the courageous dared to venture.

But because I am not courageous, he chose diapers and tiny hands and chubby little feet.  Sure, my friend and I resist this God, this Advent, because we feel that we are above it.  God in heaven is an easy thought.  Philosophers have said that if God did not exist, we surely would have invented him.  This I know to be true, because the God in my head is safely looking down, like in a Bette Middler song, from a distance.  I can easily imagine him to be so “other.”

The baby idea is so Hollywood, too much like the plot of The Wrestler.  My friend believes this is too fantastic to be true.  I think it is so fantastic it must be true.  Sometimes I despise the beauty in my attempts to answer, “What is it all about?”  The celebration of Christ’s arrival isn’t about anything else.  It is what it is, God with us.  He is with us precisely because we think he shouldn’t be.

Fr Silouan Thompson

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