If we had to describe the Christmas vibe in a word, gentle might do. Most of us grow warm-hearted as we see white twinkles showing up on our street and nog showing up in our fridge. We watch sappy reruns like Charlie Brown’s Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life. Some of us take time with friends to gather on the porch of a neighbor we barely know and belt out carols, which is a rather odd practice if you think about it. In December, we think of the children. We reminisce. We are usually more generous – precisely why all the bells and red buckets and nonprofit appeals pop up everywhere about now. Christmas is a sweet, kind-hearted season. And it should be.
However, we are kidding ourselves if we think that the deepest truth of Christmas, the moment toward which Advent points, is gentle. I’m thinking of Mary whose entire life was disrupted with a visitation from a fiery angel. I’m thinking of Herod whose empire, constructed by a lifetime of manipulation, subterfuge and violence, would be crushed in one swift moment under the Kingdom which has no end. I’m thinking of shepherds who trembled when the Palestinian night-skies ripped open with the kind of angel’s music that makes you hit the ground in terror and wet yourself (not exactly the image you want on a Christmas card).
Mostly, I’m thinking of a cross. Jesus said that he came not to bring peace, but a sword. Of course, elsewhere (and repeatedly) he also said he brought peace. In fact, he is the King of Peace – but apparently not that kind of peace. Not the peace that is frilly and tame, the kind that means nothing because it pretends to be everything. Jesus did not bring peace stripped of any real power because it can only offer us timid platitudes about the quaint advantages of being nice. Jesus carried in himself the kind of peace that made every force aligned against peace quake in its boots. It is a dangerous thing to encounter Peace when your allegiance is power or war or greed or self.
This Advent, my heart longs to be disrupted. I’m weary of the ways I domesticate God, the ways I’ve figured out how to subvert God’s call to true life by the well-ordered, comfortable life I create. Advent scares me a bit. Advent is dangerous. Because God is dangerous.