Conceiving Something New
Holly will wrap Christmas pajamas for our kids. They will open them on Christmas Eve. And if our kids read this before Christmas the surprise will hardly be spoiled. It is part of our rhythm and tradition. It doesn’t have to be a surprise to be celebrated. Christmas is full of the warmth of tradition and custom, of the combination of knowing and not knowing what is coming. And every year we gather on Christmas Eve and we sing the same carols and read the same scriptures, and we end by lighting candles in the same way. It is the stuff we know. There is little surprise in it, and yet it evokes a warmth and an essence that is the Christmas we know.
On the other hand, our holidays can be so saturated with the predictable and expected surprises that the warmth of tradition and custom can take over our celebrations. The Christmas story itself becomes predictable to the point of staleness; at least it risks becoming so. The poem included here by Lawrence Ferlinghetti speaks to this—pushing back on the commercialized and agglomerated experience of Christmas in a way to make possible some new happening, some truly surprising surprise of God’s presence. “He awaits again / an unimaginable / and impossibly / Immaculate Reconception / the very craziest / of Second Comings.”
And like the first coming of Christ, it sometimes takes an actual presence, an actual in the flesh experience of God in order to make the new break into the predictable, and to bring life back to the words. I think of our first advent at the Hyde Park Reformed Church. It was the Rev. Thom Fiet who brought life back into worship for Holly and I. He embodied the tradition, but with full heart, an engaged mind, an arsenal of questions, a critical awareness that was always critiquing our assumptions, and a trained ability to be present to the unpleasant surprises of life. Sometimes it takes someone who has undergone some great transformation who can point us towards the new, to where some life has been conceived and is growing again. Who is that figure of transformation who has shown the way for you? Who is that Joseph or Mary, or that shepherd who has been so transformed by Christ’s presence, that they have revealed a new way to enter the story and the tradition, so that we emerge not stale, but enlivened.
My greatest hope for my kids is that they will encounter such figures in their lives as they grow up; people who have undergone some transformation, who speak to an experience of God in the flesh, who even speak as God inhabiting flesh. This is perhaps the greatest gift we have to offer others – not some evangelistic tract, but our own transformations, our own “Immaculate Reconception / the very craziest / of Second Comings.”
So as we gather this Advent and Christmas Eve, and walk into the season of Epiphany and the new year, may the predictable and surprising warm us with God’s presence, even as they wake us to Christ’s advent, not far off in some distant time and land, but conceived and coming alive in our own flesh and spirit.
Through the Christ,