Friday, December 10, 2010

Scary Christmas

This study happened because I could basically not get this grade school pun out of my head.  Plus the advent readings have really been striking me with their intensity this year.  It's a little tongue in cheek, but they still haven't invented sarcasm or irony fonts, so you'll have to make do with common sense.  So for the Lakeshore Men's study this month, we have...

Scary Christmas
Time to re-advent yourself

Christmas is obviously joyful.  But as any good neurotic will tell you, there are always things to worry about.  If we look closely at the readings and themes of advent, we can begin to capture the underlying terror of the season.

In Search Of Our Kneeling Places by Ann Weems
In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
    an inn where we must ultimately answer whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
    we experience our own advent in this.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
    we can no longer look the other way conveniently not seeing stars, not hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
    tending our sheep or our kingdoms.

1)    There’s a scary thought:  “I am the innkeeper.”  There are so many reasons to turn Joseph and Mary away.  It’s late; they’re poor; they are obvious trouble as she’s clearly very pregnant; I’m busy; I’m tired; the house is full; what will my wife say… What kind of things keep you from welcoming Jesus?

The poem finishes:
This Advent let’s go to Bethlehem
    and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees
    let’s ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
    let’s look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos
    let’s listen for the brush of angels’ wings.
This Advent, let’s go to Bethlehem
    and find our kneeling places.

2)    That’s more comforting: we’re the shepherds, or even better, the wise men!  What do you do during advent to look for the gold of the Star?

Maybe we can take comfort in Mary.  Gentle woman, mother of the faith… she’ll bring peace, right?  (Luke 1:46-55, aka the Magnificat)
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

3)    That sounds nice.  God is merciful, looking with favor… what’s a time when your soul has rejoiced in God your Savior?

Unfortunately, Mary continues…
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

4)    Isn’t Mary preaching revolution here?  That’s a problem – we’re the rich.  Our country is top dog; we’re the mighty.  If Mary is calling for a massive change, a scattering of the proud, she must mean us, right?  What is this prayer/song/proclamation about to you?

John the Baptist is a figure we hear about a lot in advent.  But you just know he’s going to be scary…
(Luke 3:15-20)
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah.  John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. 
But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

5)    I knew it.  John is unworthy – what chance do we have?  Threshing forks, the wheat/chaff judgment, and burning with unquenchable fire?  And even if we’re wheat, that’s going to get us imprisoned and ultimately served on a platter.  What makes this good news to you?

Surely Jesus has the calming word.  After all, Christmas is his once and future arrival.  But what does he say? (Luke 12:35-40)
But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.  Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

6)    Is this what we look forward to?  What happened already?  Why can’t the owner protect his stuff?  If we’re supposed to prepare, but we can’t prepare, how are we supposed to prepare?  And how is God like a thief?

Nadia Bolz-Weber:  “This holy thief wants to steal from us and maybe that is literal and metaphoric at the same time.  Because in this season of pornographic levels of consumption in which our credit card debts rise and our waistbands expand maybe the idea that Jesus wants to break in and jack some of your stuff is really good news.  I started thinking this week that maybe we should make Advent lists – kind of like Christmas lists but instead of things we want Santa to bring us, we write down things what we want Christ to take from us. You know, in hopes he could pickpocket the stupid junk in our houses, or abscond with our self-loathing or resentment…maybe break in and take off with our compulsive eating or our love of money in the middle of the night.  Don’t you kind of long for God to do something unexpected?”

7)    What do you think about that?  Do you long to be surprised by God?

Blogpost: Christmas Will Happen
Sarcastic Lutheran (Nadia Bolz-Weber) Sermon on that Thieving Christ
Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem (book at Amazon)
Photo: AlyssssylA at Flickr
Advice: by the way, do not google "scary santa"

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