Monday, October 13, 2008

Ugly: an Advent/Christmas Liturgy

Mom and Dad were talking about possible themes for Advent in their church so I gave them an ear full of my theological perspective. See here and here. As we talked about it we began brainstorming what advent series might look like if we followed some of these themes. I have sketched out some of my thinking below…


John 1:1-5, 14 "1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Incarnation is the heart of the Gospel (Good News) message. God not only accomplished our redemption to himself by providing the ultimate sacrifice but he demonstrated how the human life/experience was meant to be lived. Ask yourself what required more sacrifice from God's perspective: accomplishing the work of redemption (cross) to bring his beloved back to himself; or identifying with the failing, feeble - generally ugly condition of human existence. (Obviously, I think the latter) The incarnation represents a profound reality about God's grace – we were not just worth saving – we were worth identifying with. This good news can speak profoundly to the kids/people in your ministry. The crap of their lives is not an isolated experience that they need to find their own way through. Our crap is God's crap – cause he knows. In a sense advent can be seen then as a preparatory shift that Christ had to take to identify with us – From the 'God of Glory' or the 'Son of Man'. He got Ugly.


Usually the advent season is this build up to 'glorious' climax of Christ's birth. Angels sing, wise men visit, etc. This time take the opposite approach – almost in the mood of a Tenebrae service except stretched out over a few weeks. The idea is to create a progressively uglier setting and motif for your meetings.


Start the first week with a polished celebratory service utilizing all the best aspects of your 'congregation' – this will reflect the tenor of heaven. Decorate with as much flare and beauty as possible. Have a banquet. Make the event celebratory. As you progress through the season allow the decorations to fall into disrepair and add junk and garbage till you have created a truly ugly (even smelly) place by the end. Or as you progress through the season remove decorations till you are left with a bare/stark motif for your gathering place. Also scale your 'production' back. In fact incorporate less and less 'talented' people in presenting the music or other content of the events. You might even want to orchestrate some actual failure into the flow of your meeting times. Awkward pauses and hiccups could reinforce the point in a powerful aesthetic way. Start with the all the candles in the Christmas wreath lit and extinguish one each week. End the Christmas Eve with only one light glowing from the manger.


You could take this one of two ways (maybe more) in terms of teaching focus. Typically Advent includes five events (including Christmas Eve). Here's two outline that might be possible:

#1 Celebration – The Glory of God (use scripture passages that speak of God's greatness, holiness, glory and majesty; have a sharing time that identifies the goodness of God; sing praise songs; Hallelujah chorus; trumpets;)

#2 God identifies with my World – Global focus. (use scripture passages that focus on the condition of the poor or war or disease and calamity; don't forget to include some of the beautiful things in nature; focus on specific world events; have a presentation from a relief organization; reflect on the lowliness of Christ's world at the time of his birth; read the stories of Christ's compassion on the poor and helpless)

#3 God identifies with my culture – national or cultural focus (use scripture passages that show how Christ took on the establishment of his culture; talk about the busyness of technology and how it affects our lives, media influences, you could add a bunch of busted TV's to the display; identify other cultural values that Christ challenged or reinterpreted – use the sermon on the mount as a guide)

#4God identifies with my community – local focus (read scriptures about the local setting that Christ was born in, take a tour around your town, focus on local issues; help participants to identify both the ugly and pretty side of the local setting imagine the birth of Christ as it might of occurred in this local setting.)

#5 God identifies with me – personal focus (read scriptures about how God loves each person individually; talk about personal garbage like broken relationships, woman at the well, woman caught in adultery; talk about personal fear and anxiety; talk about insignificance especially in light of the glory of heaven; end with a prayer services and personal sharing. Ask participants to reflect on how Christ's identification with them give them hope for their own lives and for further action in the world they live in)

Or you could develop a more topical approach to identification with something like this:

#1 Celebration – the Glory and Majesty of God (as above)

#2 God identifies with human relationships -- #3 God identifies with human fears -- #4 God identifies with human suffering -- #5 God identifies with human condition – sin

A few more thoughts. It seems to me that sometimes we approach Advent with a sense of anticipatory relief. I have often seen how the Advent season has been used to parallel the expectation of the return of Christ. This is a valuable parallel but in our times when some of our theological perspectives seem to be alienating us from reality (you know that sense that we need to just remain faithful while the world around us crumbles) I think it could be refreshing to see that Christ models the type of identificatory life that we should lead – the essence of our 'mission' in this world. While a progressively uglier advent season might be difficult to pull off in many of our churches or youth – it is precisely because of the 'glam' factor of the Christmas season that we should possibly consider a different approach. This type of approach could help us to regain some of the vital aspects of the incarnation regardless of whatever your theological 'priorities' might be…


Anonymous said...

All kinds of ideas and thoughts have been ruminating in my mind during our day of travel. These add very useful "fuel tot he fire". I plan to put some of my ideas on paper during the week and present it to the worship committee and pastoral staff. i'll let you know what becomes of it - of anything. ~Mom

Anonymous said...

that would be very powerful.