Sunday, December 10, 2006
Away In A Manger
On this, the second Sunday of Advent, it is important that we take some time to consider what it is we do, to take stock, examine our motivations, and ask ourselves the big questions about life and faith. Like for instance: what the fuck is Advent?
Did we have Advent when I was a kid? I don't remember any Advent. From what I'm told, it's the name for the period running up to Christmas between the Feast of Christ the King and the Big Day itself. It's supposed to be to Christmas is as Lent is to Easter. Only without the starving yourself or self-imposed faith-building prohibitions. In other words, you don't have to "give up" anything for Advent. It's basically just like Lent except with red meat and alcohol. So, for most American Catholics, it's exactly like Lent.
Oh, and also like Lent, it's one of the two times of year where they mess around with the order of the Mass so I don't know when Jesus wants me to sit down or kneel or stand in order to maximize my God-to-Pops reception of Divine Grace via collective calisthenics. I'm sure all the hopping around looks strange to outsiders, but that's because they don't understand that human beings are to the love of Jesus as rabbit ear antennae are to old timey TV signals. You have to tweak them just right in order to get a clear picture of what God wants you to do. Too much static (interference caused by Satan, or "Satanference") and the heavenly message can get garbled and next thing you know you're trying to build a boat big enough to fit two of every animal in the whole wide world. It sounds ridiculous, but if anyone wants to e-mail me, I can direct you to the illustrative story of just such a silly person.
I know our Catholic faith-gyrations are worth it because they clearly work. Some of you might have your doubts (apostates, whores-of-Babylon, Scientologists, etc.) but I am proof positive. Just today while transitioning from kneeling to standing the signal of Jesus flashed into my brain as clear as day. I was ready to receive His message.
The first thing He said to me was "Look, when the doctor prescribes you something, you take it. You don't want to start hearing voices again, do you? Honestly, where would you be without Me looking out for you?"
The second thing was less dialogue-y, more of a revelation. Not so much of the seven-headed-dragon-devouring-the-world type, but really just more of a general point of practical faith.
It hit me: it's a damned lucky thing Jesus was born on Christmas. Think of what the odds are of that. They're almost too astonishing to consider. But I guess that's why they call it a "miracle".
As I raced around, wearing myself to the point of dropping from exhaustion shopping online this weekend, I paused in church on Sunday long enough to consider that had Jesus been born at any point that would one day fall between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we might pass the day by without even noticing. We're all busy making our lists, checking them twice, buying stuff for our family and friends out of love and/or passive-aggression (another Cinnabon gift certificate for boring, fat-ass Aunt Meg and the 19th straight year of her Atkins diet)... who would have time to commemorate the creation into flesh of the King of Kings? I mean, we'd feel bad, but how often do they give you 35% off everything in the store at Kohl's?
But, lucky us, the birth of the Messiah timed out perfectly with the one day we all stop. We gather with family and friends for camaraderie, to renew our bonds with one another as part of a nuclear, extended or human family, and to remind ourselves yet again why we only tolerate these people once a year. It is the one day in all this chaos that we even have a chance to take a Jesus time out, when the capitalist maelstrom ceases to spin for one brief moment, the static clears and the message can be heard. I hate to speak for everyone, but it's much easier to be spiritually quiet on the one day Best Buy is definitely closed.
I bet that figured into the real birth of Christ story too. Joseph and Mary went to the inn that night only to find that it was closed. Because everything is closed on Christmas. Except Chinese restaurants. But this was clearly pre-Panda Express.
Joseph walked on, desperate, cold, hungry, leading the mule carrying his young wife, herself swelled and heavy with the happy burden (and the related pregnancy-caused ecstatic hemorrhoids) of the Son of God. One by one, all through Bethlehem, all doors closed. People inside, surrounded by family not speaking to one another, crowded in little rooms, awkwardly watching football and making small talk about the weather, counting the seconds until the day of unholy obligation would mercifully end.
On they walked until they found one house, one vacant space, one place not swept up in the holiday malaise, owned and operated by people unconcerned with the strictures and obligations of the season just enough to notice the needs of others. My guess is they were probably Jews. Just back from the movies. And still the best they could do was a space out amongst the animals? And thus a short 2,000 years later, you get Mel Gibson.