Look up. Your redemption is drawing near. Luke 21:28
What I notice about life is that domination and earthly powers both require heads down. Fifty Shades of Grey has shown our culture a new, moved boundary for entertainment and it at the top of viewing charts. I’ve not seen it, but I get the gist. Powerful people enjoy being dominated and powerful people also enjoy dominating weak people since it so supports the ego – that adolescent kid running amuck in the world – all of us. And weak people – especially systems like churches – sort of like domination because it forms a structure in which they can abdicate responsibility. Well, some do at least.
We have seen domination on TV or even in our lives. Battered women keep their heads down. Abused workers keep their heads down. Dominated seminarians keep their heads down. Slaves in transport keep their heads down. Jews dismounting box cars keep their heads down. Children with angry parents keep their heads down. Addicts in the slumber of their minor intoxications – food, sex, shopping, workaholism, keep there heads down even if only to see their porn, their food, their shopping cart or their iPhone telling them what “needs” to be done next and next and next and next. Satan is brilliant. Don’t abuse them, just keep them distracted …looking down at their phones and computers. Brilliant Satan! and you, Satan, even avoid a paper-trail! Well done evil one. Happy Advent to you – chief among the ones who inspire looking down – to imagined hells. After all, hell is just an eternity of getting what we thought we wanted.
Just as I used to have a child’s view of Satan (Santa seems a terribly close spelling by the way) I used to have a child’s vie of God. When I was a child, I though of God as at the old, grey, hemorrhoidal teacher coming into a classroom of evil, sharp-toothed little hellions, eyes in dark circles and running ‘round with scissors, screaming and jumping from desks onto weak, smaller (equally evil) children to disastrous effect. But as I grow old, and I feel very old indeed, I see now that God feels more to me like the doctor entering the plague ward or the detox clinic or the prison (a door which I must open since the lock is on my side.)
When I am sick or sad, my head drops. I look down, too tired to keep it up and bright-eyed. I curl up. I wrap in a quilt made for me by my first parish at my ordination and I sip chicken broth. I know I am sick and I want to be well. Sort of.
Advent is a time to lift our heads. Look up. Attend to the majesty which draws near – perilous to our addictions and to those people or activities or systems which dominate or isolate us (usually, in my experience, both.)
In different seasons we like to choose different foods, different house decorations, different liturgical colors. Similarly, I think, we like to choose different theologians and different saints. I have always only chosen one saint – one theologian – for Advent, and that is Detrich Bonhoeffer. His Advent meditations were written in prison. He held his ground against Hitler even when his church caved in and followed the Third Reich in enthusiastic lock-step. Naughty, not nice.
He tried to preach on the radio but in the middle of his sermon the microphone was turned off. Soon he was imprisoned and in prison he wrote letters to his beloved fiancé and waded through Advent. Listening in on those letters – in prison, head down, I see a man who loved Jesus, who loved people and who wanted justice in a corrupt church and a lost culture.
Bonhoeffer calls attention to Luke’s call that we look up. Lift up our heads. Notice that we are guilty and need a savior and then notice that One is coming. We must, we must, we must put down our iPhones and lift up our heads. We must, we must, we must resist oppression in any form (even our oppression of ourselves) and lift up our heads.
If ever there was a time to light a candle in the darkness, and lift up our heavy heads, it is now. Right now. Doing so will inflame the anger of oppressors, inspire action in dominators, and send demons into darker corners to sharpen their sticks and gather their stones. But lift our heads we must.
Like John the Baptist and like Detrich Bonhoeffer, we will suffer for the impertinence. The guard will be doubled. The lashes of our addictions (especially the minor ones we refuse to name) will inflame and multiply. Our demons will point their sticks and stones. But if we look up, we will see glory. And real Glory will indeed make peace on the earth.