Oh come thou, long-expected

An unexpectedly beautiful start to my advent was my son’s end of year school Christmas concert- our last one as a family at this tiny catholic school. I braced myself for the usual nod to the traditional story of Jesus, Mary, Joseph etc (gospels blended together as though they didn’t each have their own particular flavour) and then a whole lot of painfully consumerist crap centered on santa, presents and whatever other Christmas kitsch that truth be told is not meaningful for my family. What I got was song after song of the “real” (to me as a Christian I mean) Christmas story, generally separating the shepherds from the kings (each class seemed to have a particular theme of one of the Christmas stories and follow that in 1-2 songs).

My son also compered (“beyond compare” as he put it) the whole show with some very silly jokes but I must admit that kept my interest. I don’t do crowds, I don’t do Christmas functions with tinsel and all that crap and I don’t do mixing with other parents as well as I ought to and I expected to hand awkwardly at the back wishing I dared read my book about transformative practice in early childhood (which is ever-present like a security blanket in my handbag). I was only there because these are things we are supposed to do for our children.

Once the children began their excellently rehearsed and surprisingly meaningful show though, the cynicism fell away and I began (a few days early) an advent journey that I didn’t expect. Thoughts flashed into my head of the Greens‘ small triumph (please note that even though the major parties as a whole are awful on the issue of refugees there are some greater-minded individuals even in those parties)  for getting SOME children out of detention this Christmas as I watched children dressed in vague semblances of ancient Middle-eastern garb. On of the classes had a particularly interesting theme. Their two songs were “Knock, knock, knock at the door” and “No room at the inn”. I suspect both of these had been used by the school in previous years but having both of those songs together struck me as a stance of mild but insistent resistance to the common-place values of the day. When the one knocking on the door of the overburdened, overfull inn is a little cute baby that is also God- then who wants to be the one who can’t even find them a stable to sleep in (I do realise that almost all of this story is a kind of popular midrash and the bible doesn’t speak of harassed innkeepers and stables).

“Send me the link to your blog” one of my friends (you know who you are) reminded me at the conclusion of the concert and I realised that as the purple jacarandas waved their liturgical colour at me, it was time to take my pain and despair at the plight of refugees and struggling impoverished families, and dispossessed Aboriginal communities, and cast-out queer or pregnant children and take all those pains on a journey into the world of the advent of baby Wisdom.

Please note I accidentally did Year A readings which means I am running one year ahead. Sorry.

I look to the first reading with its beautiful and complex imagery of “beating swords into ploughshares” and though I can problematize the plough, in the context of the poor overburdened earth; with Vandana Shiva I want to look for small, sustainable farming answers to feed people not rip earth and human cultures apart for profit. I think that the very active idea of taking the sword into your own hands and beating it into a ploughshare by hand- the sweat and effort and struggle to make something visionary and better out of the reality you are presented with- is an activist idea, not an idea of waiting for God to do all the work of salvation. As Christ comes am I working toward a world of (active) feeding not fighting? There is an advent challenge here…

I turn to the psalm and with a rueful grin consider how my honest writing about my anger and criticism toward the church and world and my impious grappling and debating with scripture (which will continue) has led me back into the household of the church after all (partly thanks to the crazy trust of people who asked me to preach this year as well as other disgruntled Christians who walk with me). My heart is somehow “glad” and feeling at home when my feet were standing back “within the gates” of  the church although I have learned enough to never be able to be the child at the table again (like when you visit your parents after having your own house). For the sake of people I love and am inspired by I will try to modify my criticisms with a peace born of kindness. God has made me strong with the gifts of anger and criticism, the challenge is to keep myself honest with generous serves of kindness and peace in how I express my valid criticisms. But I won’t water them down, as I feel God’s pull more strongly when I am honest.

The second reading gives a timely and stern talk to my activist self at a time of year when catching up with friends for drinks has become a high priority and plans need to be made for “the holidays”. It could also speak into the not-yet-published part of my lack of discipline. It’s time for me to wake from sleep and take the fullness of my life and call more seriously. Oh my call, how I try to run from it and neglect it! If I want Wisdom to come and transform my life and my overcrowded inn I need to be ready to make like a Christmas shepherd and leave the sheep to themselves long enough to visit her and give little world-changing baby Jesus a cuddle. I need to be like an angel and point out the extraordinary to interrupt the “business as usual” of the world. I need to be like a magus and follow the enigmatic call even though it drags me through the palace of Herod which seems counter-productive. I need to be like Joseph and not question the way God’s business becomes my whole life and my business. I need to be like Mary, so connected into the Wisdom of God that it wells up in me and grows and is born and changes the world. I can still have that glass of gluten-free beer with my good mates, I can still get involved with making things at work as good as possible, I can still enjoy the last weekend of Feast and the concert with Archie Roach that I am going to but this is not where my real life is. My real life is nurturing justice and resisting injustice and I need to wake up, have serious amounts of spiritual caffeine and get to it!

I’ve always had a problem with this gospel, but today I feel I can read it as a warning that “business as usual” is not going to cut it. In terms of the environment and the spreading hand of exploitation and oppression there is a lot of merit in an apocalyptic view toward politics. What is Christmas? Is it a holiday of excess and “God rest us all merry” while there are starving children and suffering strangers in the world we have built up for our ease and security? Comfort and joy for whom?

Sometime the “Son of Man” the “human one” is coming whether we look to that possibility or not. Scientifically our days as a species are numbered (and it’s a smaller number than people like to admit). What is the meaning of being? Do we hide from the interloper, Christ until he breaks into our lives like an unsettling thief? Do we acknowledge our need and look for the coming of one who will call us to radical transformation? Knock, knock, knock at the door. It’s advent!

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One thought on “Oh come thou, long-expected

  1. Pauline Small

    Thank you for this feast of ponderings for Advent. It is a wonderful thing when we are surprised by beauty and peace. Sneaky God catching us unawares. One of the things I want to add is that we are meant to enjoy everything; this includes parties and coffees and friendships and Archie Roach (that one is easy though), There is an old Jewish story that at the end of your life God will ask about all the little things – eg do you remember that little caterpillar I showed you etc – and would be disappointed if you didn’t notice and have joy as well.

    One of the things I always notice when with some Aboriginal families I know, is that they have the ability to enjoy and laugh and hang loose in the present, with an intensity that I envy. I am trying to say this is your real life too Stef, not separate from it.

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