A LIMINAL ADVENT | Part 1
*liminal: occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold*
What if the observance and practice of the Advent season has become too well understood, too commonplace, too safe? The church system seems to have so much about divine things already figured out — we regularly tell ourselves and anyone who will listen just how much we know — that we have conditioned ourselves to believe we already know all there is to know about Advent.
What if we’re wrong?
Or what if we at least have forgotten, or perhaps never explored, the stuff of Advent beyond our established boundaries?
As someone who has a liminal relationship with institutional religion, as someone who is an ordained minister but not serving in any respectable position, as someone who sees way more of Jesus in bars than church buildings, as someone whose faith only continues because I embrace so much doubt, as someone who keeps one foot in Mother church but also mostly stands in places that aren’t condoned by the religious system, I’d like to explore things about Advent on both sides of sacred/secular thresholds — thresholds which we completely made up, by the way.
So you are invited into the next few weeks of A Liminal Advent.
The title of this season, Advent, comes from the Latin term meaning “arrival” or “approach” or “coming into” a time and space. So the season of Advent is rehearsing the first arrival of this peculiar God named Jesus as a human being on planet Earth, and it is also a preparation for the next arrival when the human Jesus comes this way again.
That’s our litany; that’s our story; that’s what we think we know so well.
Church folks who actually practice Advent love to think about some nebulous time in the future when Jesus will somehow come into the Earthly sphere riding on clouds.
But a liminal Advent reflection would raise some questions about such a locked-in narrative. Questions like:
- What if when Jesus approaches us again he comes from the outcasts, not clouds?
- What if that whole business of giving a cup of cold water, sharing food, giving away possessions to the least of these was also about where to be on the lookout for this God to come again?
- What if this God called Jesus is not at all perfect like we think and will not save us in the ways we expect?
Consider the first arrival of Jesus.
This God shows up as a baby who was subject to all that could go wrong during a pregnancy. He is born as a bastard child; a societal outcast from birth. He either flunks out of or leaves Hebrew school, learns his father’s trade, then abandons it to be a homeless itinerant with no job and nothing much to call his own. He spends most of his life just being with people and apparently not doing anything remarkable enough to make it into the stories. He eventually makes enemies of religious leaders and political leaders alike who collude to kill him. He is executed as a criminal.
Frankly, it seems like Jesus didn’t have his act together. What’s more, it seems like that was just fine.
Could his second arrival be as an outcast again? Could his power truly be in weakness? Could he claim to be king precisely because he holds no claim to divine power?
Perhaps. We should at least consider the possibility.
If we did, how might that change our Advent seasons?
We might realize we don’t know much. We might confess we don’t have it all together. We might affirm that we need each other, all the each others. We might bless our pain. We might actually, for once, finally not be consumeristic fiends at this most consumeristic greedy time in the Western world. We might not see the next Advent as some pie-in-the-sky unreality that we, in all honesty, hope never happens or at least doesn’t happen during our lifetimes and so mess up what we have going on.
We might learn to be friends with a bastard god who is all too human.
We might long for a beggar king. We might learn to be friends with a bastard god who is all too human. We might allow our civilized and acceptable patterns of living to be turned inside-out for the sake of all those outside the systems of power. We might embrace an imperfect God who continues to love all the imperfection of the universe.
A Liminal Advent
Faith requires doubt. We can be sure of nothing. Liminality is authentic.
This Advent, I want to embrace all sides of our made-up boundaries.
So this week, on November 30, our little family will gather around our Advent calendar that begins on the Feast of St. Andrew and doesn’t end until after the Twelve Days of Christmas have concluded at the Epiphany celebration. That’s a lot of windows, a lot of Christian history, a lot of supposedly known stuff. We’ll observe the traditions of the season as a family and enjoy each moment.
But we’ll also inconvenience our schedules to eat regularly with our friends who subsist in homelessness and poverty. And we’ll be looking for the god we call Jesus among those so often ignored. I suspect he’s lurking there, rather than behind one of the Advent calendar windows.
In keeping with Advent tradition, this is the first of 4 posts over the next few weeks. Following this Invocation will be a Confession, then an Affirmation, and finally a Benediction. The links below will be live when the articles are published.
Benediction: All the Pain