Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent Dashes Expectations

Here are a few more observations from the Time essay that I mentioned in this past Saturday’s entry. (The essay can be found at,9171,1942957-1,00.html)

The author, Nancy Gibbs, had heard the show “Glee” criticized as “anti-Christian” because the show portrays Christians as phony. “The fact that Glee is about a club full of misfits already makes it ripe gospel ground; Jesus was not likely to be sitting at the cool kids' table in the cafeteria.” Another good thing about the show, Gibbs writes, is the way it confuses our expectations, as in the thoroughly nasty cheerleaders’ coach who, it turns out, has a tender relationship with her sister with Down’s syndrome. “The point is not whether there is an embedded moral message to be found beneath all the snark and snideness in this show or any other. The point lies in the surprises that jostle us out of our smug little certainties and invite us to weigh what we value, whatever our faith tradition.”

I was thinking about all this in terms of Advent. It’s de rigueur to say that, at Christmas, God overturns human expectations. The Gospel lesson yesterday was Luke 3:1-6, which cleverly lists the people in power at the time. Duly noted, the powerful people are nevertheless not recipients of God’s prophecy: John is. And the newborn king Jesus is not in a position of great power, either. Wouldn’t God choose showy, authoritative ways to reveal the divine plan, in order for God to get the maximum credibility and results. Well … no, God doesn’t work that way.

The problem is that we're accustomed to understanding the way God worked in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Advent no longer surprises us. The season no longer poses the questions that might shatter our faith in what we think we know about God. God might still be working (and surely is) in ways that overturn human expectations! We might never know, because we're like all the people too busy and sure of ourselves to find the Bethlehem manger.

It takes a good deal of openness and open-mindedness, I believe, to perceive God's grace in the world! But this kind of open-mindedness is not different from sincere humility. God, after all, doesn't have to check with us first before doing marvelous things.

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