The season of Advent is nearly upon us, beginning this Sunday (Dec 2) and ending with the season of Christmas (Dec 25). Advent simply means “arrival” or “coming” and it refers to the first coming of Jesus into our world.
As I began to think about Advent and what it means, several images have lingered before my mind. Let me put them before you and then offer a few thoughts.
What do these images provoke in you? To me, they communicate warmth and kind of a “utopian perfection” revolving around Christmas. The first is from Martha Stewart and the second from Thomas Kinkade, two of the leading purveyors of this view of Christmas. I think it’s safe to say they reflect something of what we want for ourselves and for our loved ones during the holiday.
What about these images?
The first shows the arrest of Martha Stewart in 2004 for charges having to do with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and insider trading. The second is a news headline about Thomas Kinkade’s cause of death, a drug overdose. These realities don’t seem to fit with the utopian ideals by Stewart or Kinkade. What went wrong?
What do I intend by putting these four images before you? Which of these pictures is closest to reality? More specifically, Christmas reality?
Too much of our Christmas preparations have to do with trying to construct a utopian ideal of some sort – but does our preparation have much to do with reality, with life lived in a broken world? Which place are we seeking to celebrate Christmas? The Inn or the stable?
Eugene Peterson reminds us,
“One of the seductions that bedevils Christian formation is the construction of utopias, ideal places where we can live totally and without inhibition or interference the good and blessed and righteous life. The imagining and then attempted construction of such utopias is an old habit of our kind. Sometimes we attempt it politically in communities, sometimes socially in communes, sometimes religiously in churches. It never comes to anything but grief. Utopia is, literally, ‘no-place.’ But we can live our lives only in actual place, not in an imagined or fantasized or artificially fashioned place.” (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 73).
I will write more on this later, but I would argue that we need to fight against utopian images of Christmas and move in to the dirty smelly stable where Jesus will actually come. This is where reality is. The paintings hanging on the walls of the stable are those of the latter set above, not the former.
“We are the identical stuff with the place in which we have been put. God formed us from dust, from dirt - the same stuff that we walk on every day, the same stuff on which we build our houses, the same stuff in which we plant our gardens, the same stuff over we which construct our roads and on which we drive our cars.” (Peterson, ibid., 76)