Sunday, 29 November 2015

BB-8 or the Baby Jesus? A Misplaced Longing for the Seventh Coming

Traditionally, Advent is a time for Christians to reflect on the coming of Christ. We look forward to our celebration of the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of God’s eternal Son, the enfleshment of Israel’s Messiah (though surely the incarnation began at Jesus’s conception). And we also remember the future, for we believe that the risen Jesus will come again in his glory as King of kings and Lord of lords. These two ‘comings’ will be well rehearsed over the next few weeks, and rightly so.

But if you paid any attention to the title of this post, you’ll realise it’s not the first or second comings I’m anticipating most this Advent; it’s the seventh coming, that is, the arrival of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in cinemas. Yes, that’s right, folks: this year, I’m more excited about BB-8 than the baby Jesus. I’ve acquired a Star Wars t-shirt; I’ve bought a limited edition copy of Empire magazine (which I hope to sell for a profit in about thirty years); and I’m taking in as much TFA-related stuff as I possibly can. I’m more excited about Episode VII than I was about any of Episodes I–III – and I like those films. (Really, I do. They’re unnecessarily scorned. And my son and I have just re-watched Episodes I–VI in anticipation of Episode VII.)

As a Christian, I suppose I ought to be ashamed at my misplaced longing for the seventh coming. But I’m not. I am aware at the incongruity of looking forward to a film about fictional defenders of a galaxy’s freedom when my hope and trust is placed in the actual, real-life Saviour of the entire universe(s), the one through whom is the source of all freedom. But still . . . There aren’t any lightsabers in the Bible (unless you count Genesis 3:24b).

So to what do I owe my jadedness? Part of it, I’m sure, is the endless cycle of liturgical seasons. We celebrated Advent last year, and the year before that. The imminent arrival of TFA is something new, something fresh, something exciting that promises much – at least for a couple of hours or so. At the risk of sounding like I prize entertainment over piety, the season of Advent is too familiar. And despite all the energy and attention that no doubt will be channelled into carol services, Christmas fairs, and what-not – well, this year, I fear that what could be life-giving ritual will become soul-draining routine. The whole process is stale.

Another factor is that TFA is another chapter in an existing narrative many people have found utterly compelling; Episode VII will continue a story. But Advent merely reproduces a story. It’s an important story, to be sure – it’s the story of God’s eternal Son taking on flesh as the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth. But all too often, I feel as though the profundity of waiting in anticipation for the Saviour’s coming(s) is buried underneath the debris of sentimentality and kitsch.

So what can I do to refocus myself, to shuffle my priorities into a more appropriate order? How shall I diffuse the Advent ennui that threatens to engulf? I shall take time to be quiet and reflect during Advent; nothing too radical. I shall make space to think about why Jesus came a long time ago to this galaxy, and why Jesus has promised to return. And I shall have to consider why I’m more excited by BB-8 than the baby Jesus, why I’m more excited about things of this age (as good as they often are) than things of the age to come, and what all this says about me at the moment. In these ways, I aim to find a way past the Victorianized romanticism of the Advent season in expectation of the Spirit’s awakening of the future.

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