The First Sunday of Advent - Be Watchful, Be Alert! (Part 1 of 4)
Jesus said to his disciples: "Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"
This Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent, the season of watchful waiting. But what are we waiting for? In a very real way, this question goes to the heart of what it means to be Christian.
Is a Christian someone committed to being a good person? How does that distinguish us from our secular brothers and sisters? Are we watchful for a moment of moral judgment, hoping we pass a cosmic final exam?
Is a Christian someone who has values distinct from secular values? Which ones exactly? Values around sexuality? A particular economic system?
Certainly, a Christian is someone committed to Jesus, but who do we say he is? Is he a moral cheerleader, come to Earth to increase charitable giving and volunteerism? Did a weary world rejoice at this birth because we finally had a good example? Was he born to be savagely killed to satiate an angry god’s bloodlust, inflamed by our poor behavior?
C.S. Lewis re-framed this theology to make it a little more palatable in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Aslan the Lion was bound by the terms of Deep Magic that required the execution of Edmund, who was guilty of treason. Aslan exploits a loophole in the Deep Magic and allows himself to be executed in Edmund’s place, only to be resurrected later. In Lewis’s imagination, punishment must follow bad behavior as inevitably as 2 + 2 = 4. Even God is bound by it. Christians have endless ways of hedging the question of judgment: God forgives but He doesn’t forget; God doesn’t judge us, but we separate ourselves from His love; etc, etc, etc.
The premise of this blog is that we do not have free will and so God, if He is aware of this and interested in being fair, could not possibility reward us for good behavior and punish us for bad behavior. There can be no test. There can be no enraged deity or inevitability of punishment. There can be no judgment. So, what does it mean to be a Christian? What is the point of the Christmas story?
I believe the answer to that question is developed over the entire course of Scripture with clarion call crescendos in three distinct moments: The Garden of Eden, the delivery of The Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, and the Nativity story. (Yes, I’ll admit I think the Resurrection, although important, is more of an exclamation point than an integral part of the story.) Over the remaining three Sundays of Advent I will explore each one of these stories in the context of answering what it means to be Christian. It may seem that without free will that answer will leave Christmas (and Christianity) cold, mechanistic, and over-intellectualized. But I think the opposite is true.