Sunday, December 09, 2007

Advent and Material Rhetoric

I was explaining to my roommate Jamie the other day why I love advent so much. There are lots of reasons, really, that I love advent. I’ve always loved advent. I love the color purple, I love twinkling lights and candles, I love hymns in minor keys. In Michigan, anyway, Advent is often the season of the first snow, and it’s crisp and sparkling and still exciting. The dominant mood in advent is waiting and longing. This is probably the theological mood that I could comprehend best as a child. Everyone understands what it is to wait.

Advent is also a time when we reflect on one of my favorite doctrines: the incarnation. In the Christmas story, God becomes a person. Not any person, a first century Jewish baby in a stable. He gets born. The word becomes flesh. God announces to us in a dramatic, private, angel-heralded event that bodies matter. Bodies matter so much that God needed to become embodied to show us how to live, and to save us. Jesus’ body mattered, Mary’s body mattered. If bodies mattered enough for God to decide they were a crucial part of his salvation story, then they must matter for us in our lives too.

The piece I realized when I was talking to Jamie is how much my love of this doctrine affects the way I think. It’s this commitment to the idea that bodies matter – that our physical needs and location and actions are important – that has a big influence on my scholarly commitments. These material concerns have been largely overlooked, especially by those who study the making of meaning and argument. But through the incarnation I realize that the most profound meanings are made with bodies and buildings and objects, including the person of Jesus.


Rachel said...

beautiful anti-gnostic post. :)

the chickens' auntie said...

I absolutely agree with you and share with you the love of advent. Growing up, we didn't call it that but, like you, I understood the concept of waiting, and found the time to be almost magical.

As a mother and as one who had a baby at the celebrated time of Christ's birth (yes, I know it isn't accurate), I looked at my own infant and marveled at his vulnerability and at the Lord's sending Jesus in such a delicate package.

The most humbling part of the nativity story to me, though, is the realization that Mary, on some level or in entirety, knew what an unusual child she had. We have many discussions here at work about just what she understood and how she coped with the knowledge. Personally, I hope that she only knew he was the Son of God and the Messiah and had no understanding of what his future would bring.

Thanks for your advent post. We're looking forward to seeing you at Christmas!

KBush said...

I (heart) Advent for all the same reasons you do. Glad to know I'm not the only liturgical nerd. :)

shellbell said...

Well-said, Bethany. Agree with you 100%. It's fun being a liturgical and theological nerd along with you and Kristen. :)