For the last number of years during the season of Advent, the congregation of Byron United Church has assembled a life-sized nativity scene in front of their church building facing a major intersection. Each year, the manger is left empty waiting to receive the Christ-child on Christmas Eve. As we drove by the church on our way to visit family yesterday, it became apparent that this year there would be no place for the little Lord Jesus to lay down his sweet head. Where the nativity scene had once stood, there was now only the unseasonably green grass of the church lawn. Muddy tire tracks cut into the grassy boulevard were the only clue pointing to what had transpired. A few nights earlier a driver had lost control of their vehicle and crashed into the nativity scene. I’m not privy to any of the details, but I don’t believe anyone was hurt. The only casualty appears to have been the nativity scene. A crashed-out crèche may not quite reach the disorienting heights of the climax of a Flannery O’Connor short-story, but for those with homiletical ears to hear the scene is surely suggestive.
The following is adapted from a sermon preached to pastoral ministry students at Tyndale Seminary near the beginning of the season of Advent this year.
I didn’t come to ask how you’re doing these days
Didn’t come to roll no stones away no
I come to tell you the end is nigh
I come to prophecy
You wanted a messenger and I be he
Your heebie jeebie man in ecstasy
My eyes a blazin’ and my mantle dark
You better hark
The noted preacher Fleming Rutledge makes the point of reminding congregations in many of her Advent sermons that “Advent begins in the dark.” On one level, this is an empirically verifiable reality as we gather together during Advent to light candles against the encroaching darkness of the ever-shortening days of December. Continue reading “Advent Begins in the Dark”
Theological reflection always begins in the middle. After all, theological reflection is the work of a people who find themselves on pilgrimage (in via) as a result of being claimed by the address of the Triune God. There is no getting back to square one – to some primal location – for we are historical creatures who cannot escape our positioning in a good, but fallen world that started long before we arrived and, God willing, continue for long after we’ve died. Furthermore, if God is truly God, then God is not simply there to be discovered like helium or hydrogen, mites or mandrills. If theological reflection is to be truly theological it can only be, as Karl Barth famously maintained, a “thinking after” (Nachdenken in German) the reality of God’s self-revelation in the person of Christ. Continue reading Beginning in the Middle