The Advent Child
The Nativity story presents me with an image of eluded expectations. Where I would expect to find the alpha and omega of power, might, and strength, if in cuddly miniature form, I encounter instead ordinary anxiety-inspiring dependency, delicacy, and weakness. I discover not a budding messianic warrior in a palace, but an artisan’s frail child in a stable.
The narrative serves as a reminder that what I call God will always be ahead of my expectations, notions, and conceptions. The liturgy of Christmas brings the birth of Jesus Christ to life, ushering in an end to the Season of Advent, and yet does so while maintaining Advent’s central meaning: God is always to come. God eludes my pathetic attempts to make “him” present. My words fail. All of them. Even my most lofty and seemingly precise words, like “Trinity” and “omnipotence,” focus my mind by way of analogies that could easily become idols.
The Nativity is an apophatic myth: in saying something about the divine, it shows us that we can eventually say nothing. We do not know what we are saying when we speak of the sacred. All of our creeds and theologies, our doctrines and dogmas, in attempting to give the infinite finite expression, say what cannot be said. They are infinitely distant from that to which they refer. Even words I simply adore, like “alterity” and “otherwise,” prove inadequate when used to approximate the meaning of what I call God.
Christmas is a season for celebration, yes; but it is also a call to silence.