The closer we get to Christmas the more dangerous Advent becomes. As counter-intuitive as that seems, let me assure you it’s true. The texts become dangerous, the ground becomes uncertain, and the demands made on our lives become greater with each step we take toward Bethlehem. The nearer we get to Jesus, the harder it is to keep everything around us in perspective. Once you see Jesus on the horizon, all the other things which have claimed importance and dominance in your life no longer hold the same luster.
Those watching and witnessing your journey will at first be confused. Later, they may go into denial or anger. To the world around you, your focus on the baby in Bethlehem is a dangerous distraction amid the holiday frivolity and gift-buying mirth. One doesn’t simply decide to step off the cultural train and do something else; especially something like paying homage to a baby in a manger. This is why the transition from Advent to Christmas is dangerous. People are watching. They notice who steps out of the accepted cultural norms. Good, let them watch. If we’re not making somebody uncomfortable, if our words aren’t causing someone to squirm, then we’re doing something wrong.
We’ve spent centuries trying to explain how God works. In our best workshops and holy places, we’ve built box after box in an effort to place a God under our control. Time and time again, this God has escaped our attempts to define our priorities, wishes, and rules. God doesn’t want to be our God on our terms. We don’t set the parameters of the relationship and offer a contract to God. It’s really the other way around. This God wants us to be her people. God’s terms become our reality.
For a while, this seemed to work. Then nothing worked. The silence was deafening and no listened to anyone. The ideas of justice, mercy, and kindness floated away to the sea on rivers of blood. Our reality, the way we came to understand God was broken. The conventional arrangements and explanations no longer sufficed. When the present is broken beyond repair, it’s time to tell a new story. Sure, there may be echoes of the past. However, if you want to create a different framework for understanding reality, one based in something other than a strong Roman army, a Caesar who claims he’s the Son of God, a good tax base, a big Temple, and a puppet king; you go new.
New is dangerous. That’s why, for the most part, we do the same stuff each year for Christmas. New is different and uncertain. You don’t get any newer (and thus more dangerous) than a baby whose very presence challenges the old established religious ideas, political power, and social structure. Babies represent change when you bring one home from the hospital. This baby represents change on a structural level. Important people will have an issue with his birth. And here’s an important point for us to remember, they won’t care how Jesus is born, it’s that he’s born. The King Herods, Pontius Pilates, and Caesar Augustus’ of the world could care less about Mary’s biology or the means of Jesus’ conception. It’s his theology, what Jesus says and does which is a threat to their existence and ultimately inaugurates the Kingdom of God.
I believe theology trumps biology every time. For most people, Caesar Augustus was the Son of God (divi filius). In the Roman world, there was only room for one Son of God. His mother (Atia), according to the story, was impregnated by a snake sent from Apollo. I don’t think (nor do I believe) Augustus was conceived by his mother’s intercourse with a snake. That’s why the story of Mary’s spirit conception was part of something old, rather than part of God’s new, new thing. There’s nothing dangerous about recycling old Roman folk tales about Caesar and making them your own. A baby, born to be a nonviolent Messiah who dies for others rather than killing for himself, now you’re talking about something unexplainable; a child who represents more than any of us can possibly imagine. Sign me up for that.