Advent: Calling ‘Come’

I’m re-posting something from last Advent, because I’ve been remarkably busy considering my semester/degree is basically over, and because the ideas in this post stick with me, and I think they’re worth revisiting.

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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.

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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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