Friday, December 16, 2005


Thanks to the amusing network of friends surrounding tomtastic, I found myself browsing through Chuck Norris facts, and came across a few with an Advent theme:
"Chuck Norris was the fourth Wiseman. He brought baby Jesus the gift of 'beard'. Jesus wore it proudly... The other Wise men, jealous of Jesus' obvious gift favoritism, used their combined influence to have Chuck omitted from the Bible. Shortly after all three died of roundhouse kick related deaths."
Actually that was more of an Epiphany-theme. The Advent one is
"Chuck Norris doesn't sleep. He waits."
Tonight I am going to try to use that as a semi-amusing Youth Group Lock-In talk segue to what Advent is really all about. It's a rhetorical hook that I figure has a 25% chance of succeeding.

Advent is of course about Christ's coming in the flesh, but also about his less popular future coming in glory. Hard to believe? Perhaps. But I've felt less and less crazy about believing that Jesus actually will show up one day upon realizing that the common objections are dealt with not by theologians "accommodating the delay of the Parousia" centuries after Christ didn't come as many expected, but right there within Scripture itself. But the real kicker is that whether or not Christ appears in our lifetime (for which the chances are relatively slim), we will all experience what is effectively the Second Coming of Christ for each of us personally on the day that we die (for which the chances are relatively high).

I don't think our culture has quite forgotten this. Somewhere deep in the tomes of Karl Barth's Dogmatics I remember him referencing a debate about the secularization of Europe in which the vestiges of Christianity were referred to as "an aroma in an empty bottle," the empty bottle being a de-Christianized Europe, and the aroma being whatever vague hints of the Christian past remained. Heavyweight theologian Carl Braaten recently used the language as well to describe the American scene:
"Our pastors and laity are being deceived by a lot of pietistic aroma, but the bottle is empty."
One can smell this aroma quite distinctly in, for example, The Christmas Carol which Denise and I got to see at McCarter thanks to the generosity of friends. Though I can imagine someone arguing it isn't, Dickens' serial/book/play/movie is impossible without Christianity. At one point in the play (at least as performed at McCarter) Scrooge actually prays out loud to "the Spirit of Christmas" to help him change. In another era that was called repentance. [Theological digression: It seems Scrooge is a Modalist: The generic "Spirit of Christmas" lurks behind its three manifestations: The Spirits of Christmas past, present and future.]

But when judgment becomes the threats of "Spirit of Christmas future" to let Tiny Tim go turkeyless, and when the Holy Spirit becomes the "Spirit of Christmas" who can help us all change by infusing the blessed sacrament of jolly good cheer, then what we have is the "aroma in an empty bottle." I couldn't help thinking I had heard a very similar story before. Except the ending isn't so happy - as the ending very well may not be for many of us.

And what about Santa Claus? I am sure most of the kids in my Youth Group don't believe in Santa Claus, but I will attempt to persuade them to believe that there actually is someone who is making a list and checking it twice and will one day reward us, or not. Though that aroma tells us of a mere lump of coal, the real thing tells us of a lake of fire. Thought the aroma tells of a few cool toys, the real thing tells of an eternal crown of glory. Though in the minds of most kids Santa will go, Christ endures as the deep red Chianti that can survive one's intellectual maturation without evaporating.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for Dickens and Santa (and for that matter, Chuck Norris). They can serve as great preparations for the truth a la Narnia - and knowing the truth behind them makes them all the richer. War on Christmas? It's hard to get too worried about it when what is being warred against is often just a whiff.