Generous Orthodoxy  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent: the season begins in the dark

Advent begins in the dark. And these are dark times. In the farm market where we shop in the Berkshires, the everyday talk among customers picking out wreaths and baked goods has been dark, dark, dark. Economy barely dragging along, the euro nations sunk in gloom, worst Congress ever, pundits writing about the end of the American dream. On top of that, Pakistan (worst ally ever) becoming even more impossible, resurgence in Cairo, credible reports of children tortured and mutilated in Syria, Christians disappearing from the Middle East, no sign of an end to human rights violations in surging China.

"Religion" is not the answer. Religion is essentially man-made: it is projected out of our wishes, our longings, our "spiritual" capacities. Advent reminds us: human incapacity is the condition in which we find ourselves -- our inability to gain any lasting victory of light over darkness. It is from beyond human capacity that the announcement comes: "Behold, I am doing a new thing" Isaiah 43:19). The Light that shines in the darkness (John 1:5) is not the light of religion, not even the light of religious faith. It is the uncreated Light, not part of this darkened sphere at all, not bound by it, not contiguous with it, not limited by it, not projected from it, not coexistent with it but rather, God from God, Light from Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not created. Therefore the New Thing is not just generalized religious comfort, but the Incarnation itself -- the invasion of "this present evil age" (Gal 1:4) by the Deliverer who arrives from a sphere of power entirely independent of and qualitatively greater than the powers that dominate and ravage this world.

But still more extraordinary is the announcement that this Deliverer whom deutero-Isaiah apostrophizes in 15 soaring chapters is among us as the Suffering Servant. It is he who is the Light of the world. It is the humanly inconceivable conjunction of his coming in lowly obscurity with the decisive, cosmic, universal salvation announced by Isaiah that forms the heart of the Advent-Christmas season. Sentiment about babies, mangers, and cute farm animals really must be resisted; and since Christmas is to some extent lost to us as proclamation because of the overwhelming appeal of the irresistible Nativity story, the time for that resistance is now: Advent.

The heavens will vanish like smoke,
The earth will wear out like a garment,
and they who dwell in it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be for ever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.
(Isaiah 51:6)