Sunday, November 30, 2014

An Impossible Advent

"For what is religion...if not a love for the advent of the impossible, the unconditional, the undeconstructible, where our hearts long to go with a desire beyond desire and a hope against hope?" -- Phil Snider, Preaching After God

Today, the church enters into the season of Advent, a churchy-word that means just what it means: Advent. Arrival. Coming.

Advent is often mistaken for the prologue to Christmas, but that's not quite right -- the name of the season comes from the Latin adventus, which is in turn a translation of the Greek parousia, a term that usually refers to the traditional Christian belief in the Second Coming of Christ. So Advent isn't a breathless buildup to the "real event" of Christmas day. It's actually a time of slowing down, of paying attention, to the signs of the advent--the arrival--of Christ, not just in the celebration of Christmas, but in our very midst.

But it's hard to slow down and to pay attention right now, to prepare quietly and introspectively to invite Christ into our spare rooms. Hard to imagine readying a space for Jesus in the midst of the injustice, violence, rank materialism, and racism that have [once again] splashed across news feeds and TV screens over the past week. Hard to justify looking for a space for reflection when there is so much to be done, so many calls for action and righteous response.

Not just hard. Almost impossible.

I've been reading a book called Preaching After God, by pastor and theologian Phil Snider. Snider attempts to bring some of the insights of post-modern philosophy to bear on the task of preaching in a congregation where doubt and questions are welcome, where, to use his words, "listeners...believe in God some of the time, or none of the time, or all of the time." And I stumbled on the quote that began this post, in which he calls religion "a love for the advent of the impossible."

Advent is a season of expecting the impossible. And it is exactly against a backdrop of injustice and violence and unrest that we tell the stories of this season, stories of hope stirring in the deep, dark waters of hopelessness.

What impossible things might be arriving in our midst this season? What seemingly absurd hopes might be stirring even now, in the wake of yet more bad news, more infuriating reality checks to the myth of inevitable progress?

What might it mean to observe an impossible Advent?

Over the next four weeks, I'm going to reflect on some of these questions. Some of these little pieces might be explicitly religious; others, perhaps not. Some will be responses to the urgent events of the world, and some will step back from the urgency. Some will be quite concrete; others, perhaps a bit meta.

But I hope that they'll help stir up hope.

Hope in the midst of whatever it is you carry with you these days, whether you "believe in God some of the time, or none of the time, or all of the time."

Hope in the advent, in the arrival, of the impossible.

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