When we call ‘Come’

Come, Lord Jesus! Do I dare

Cry: Lord Jesus, quickly come!

Flash the lightning in the air,

Crash the thunder on my home!

Should I speak this aweful prayer?

Come, Lord Jesus, help me dare.

(Madeleine L’Engle)

_____

Advent marks one of my favorite times of year. I love the changing seasons—the chill in the air; winter creeping in. Strings of lights and artificial candles in windows push back at the early dark. The Geminids are followed by the winter solstice. In church we light candles and sing minor melodies. Everything seems to glisten. Everything seems still—impossibly, in the face of the American shopping frenzy and my own end-of-semester panic.

This is a time of expectation and joyful anticipation. A time to get ready. Preparing our hearts and hearths for the advent of Christ. My crèche is baby-Jesus-less, and will stay that way until Christmas (well, until I leave my apartment for holidays with family—being a nomad can turn a fixed feast to a moveable feast).

We get ready so we can call “Come” to the Messiah. We do this during Advent—“O come, O come Emmanuel” remains one of my favorite hymns.

The thing is, we don’t really know what’s coming.

Kevin Hart, a Notre Dame English professor and poet, wrote Postmodernism: a Beginner’s Guide, which I read in an undergrad English class. It remains, I think, the most hospitable introduction to postmodernism I’ve come across, and is especially interesting for its chapters on the postmodern Bible and postmodern religion—though as a secular text for a secular audience, this inclusion has not always garnered praise.

In the chapter on the postmodern Bible, Hart talks about—well, all kinds of things. It’s still a lot to wrap my head around (guess I’d better work on that, as I’m taking a grad seminar in pomo next semester…). But the little bit I’m going to pluck out deals with the expectations and complications of an event. Hart’s talking about Derrida here, but you don’t need a solid grasp (or any grasp, really) on Derridean thought to figure out what’s going on.

Hart writes, “There is no such thing as an event that we can fully know in advance…So when I call ‘Come’ to an event, it is always possible for the unexpected to occur.”—that’s the basic idea he’s building from. Hart (and, I gather, Derrida) turn this idea to calling “Come” to the Messiah. I’m going to quote the majority of one of Hart’s paragraphs, because abbreviating it makes me sad and because he says it better than I could paraphrase:

“If a Christian prays ‘Come’ to Jesus, as we are enjoined to do, then we should be aware of what we are doing. It is important for use to mark the otherness of Jesus Christ, not to believe that we already fully know who he is. No one who reads the New Testament has the right to think that the Jesus variously represented there is altogether given to us in the order of knowledge. We pray with a deep trust that God does not deceive us, yet we need to remember that our prayer is addressed to a transcendent deity whose otherness is not to be reduced. Even the most vigilant Christian succumbs from time to time to accommodating God to a preferred image of him, and it is salutary to be reminded that when we call ‘Come’ we are perhaps calling a Savior who will shatter the image of him that we have so carefully constructed.”

When we call “Come,” we are not calling someone or something we know—or are capable of knowing—fully in advance. We call “Come” with all the risks and ambiguities the word carries. This is a time of joyful anticipation, but there’s nothing safe or comfortable about it. To call “Come” to Christ is, perhaps, the most dangerous and the most important thing we as Christians can do.

So, with Madeleine L’Engle, I say, “Should I speak this aweful prayer? / Come, Lord Jesus, help me dare.

_____

How do you mark Advent? How do you call “Come” to Christ? When has Christ broken in and shattered your expectations and image of him?

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2 thoughts on “When we call ‘Come’

  1. I think this is such an important post, Alissa. As Christians we are often really arrogant in our belief that we have the whole story; our confidence that God “does not deceive” blinds us to another truth in scripture – that we only know “in part.”

    Israel thought they understood God and missed Christ. I fear that Christianity’s rigid expectations of the divine today are causing us to miss new revelations of God’s love to the world.

    Shattered expectations? I’ve recently had to re-evaluate my long-held beliefs about hell when I was really confronted with the truth of “for God so loved the world …” I’m not sure which came first, my beliefs about God, or my beliefs about hell, but over time, the idea that most people throughout the history of the world would be tortured eternally hardened my heart. Psychologically I couldn’t hold God’s love and eternal torture in my mind at the same time, so my belief in the real love of the Father eroded away. The return to such love is saving my faith.

    • Thanks, Lindsay. I like your point about what we miss when we adhere to strictly to expectations. A seminarian at my parish preached a wonderful homily not too long ago about letting go of expectations — actually opening up her hand as demonstration. It’s a good reminder not to scrabble and cling. Sort of goes back to the idea of living out of abundance rather than scarcity, actually. Everything’s connected.

      Really lovely to hear your beautiful story of returning to God’s love. I’ve had to rethink a lot, and it’s never easy or terribly pleasant.

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