In seminary, I was a member of the Advent police, who tried, somewhat in vain, to keep the campus from beginning to celebrate Christmas too early. We took this very seriously, but then we took everything very seriously in seminary. Looking back, I call all that seriousness tedious, but at the time it seemed as if we were saving the church from degradation.
Advent for us was about discipline, the discipline of waiting, a defiance of the rampant consumerism that was the lead-up to the world’s Christmas. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the defiance of consumerism. There’s every biblical warrant for that stance to be a significant part of Christian living, although I know very few Christians (including myself) who are very good at it.
Instead of discipline, though, I have come upon another word to use for Advent. That word is disruption. I’ll confess that I learned the word from Hebrew Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann. One of his many books is Disruptive Grace.
Our lives being disrupted has much more to do with Christmas than discipline. What was and is and will be the coming of Jesus into the world and into our lives but disruptive. What we celebrate at Christmas is an intervention, the intervention of God in our lives and snaps us awake like those foolish virgins in the parable from Matthew’s Gospel. “Help!” we cry, “We are out of oil.” In our case, the oil of which we are found wanting is our attentiveness to the things that truly matter in this world, “Glory for God and peace for humankind,” as the angels sing. Not just peace for the world, but peace in our own living rooms, and the way we interact with others in our communities.
There is much resentment and meanness in our current way of being with one another. Everybody knows it, but no one seems to be able to do anything about it. We just go on exacerbating it with the kind of judgment that Jesus taught us was simply none of our business. We might pray for a renewed intervention, but that will mean a significant disruption in our lives—the disruption of love, of mercy, of gentleness.
For all the moral dilemmas in our world that need solving, what we actually need most is the disruption of our attitude by the baby of Bethlehem. I am reminded of a line from a Christmas Carol, which I will quote even though we are only midway through Advent: “O hush your noise and cease your strive, and hear the angels sing.”