Led a Bible study on Advent tonight, and was struck in the BCP Advent passages by the episode where Jesus turns over the tables of the money changers in the temple because he is angry that it is a den of robbers rather than a house of prayer. It made me realize the violence that might be necessary in our own lives if we are to set aside spaces but even more particularly times for prayer. Unless we actively clear spaces and times for prayer — holy ground, so to speak — we will be mastered by our schedules. Prayer does not simply happen on its own, and so we discover the odd paradox that in order to undertake the most contemplative of Christian practices, we must have the temples of our hearts purged by the active wrath of Christ that spares no idolatry. It reminds me a little of Milton’s poem on the nativity. I recall an uncharitable critic dismissing it as a poem presenting Christ as a baby Hercules turfing the usurping demonic “gods” out of all their kingdoms. The critic may have disliked this, but the image is not unapt. The message of Christmas may be peace on earth, but it is not peace as the world gives peace — indeed, it may, as John the Baptist prophesies, be a baptism by the fire of God’s wrath against anything that would wrest our hearts from Him.
For the next 23 days, I will be posting reflections on Christmas and Christmas culture as a way of counting down Advent. My posts will orbit about two themes: the primary reason for Christmas, the coming of Immanuel (God with us); and the odd and bizarre way that Christmas culture relates to this advent. These posts are informed by G.K. Chesterton’s analysis of Christmas and Dickens. See Chesterton on Christmas in my notes, from his biography of Dickens.
Next in the series: Happy Feast Day of St. Nicholas