“What is your favorite thing to preach about?” a colleague asked me, catching me off guard.
A moment earlier, I had been venting my frustrations about vocational ministry. The question came as a way of saying, “Ok, but why don’t we take some time to think about what you love about your job.”
I paused for a moment. I chose my words carefully.
“Absurdity,” I said.
Yes. Absurdity. That’s it.
Midwives toppling empires. Swords beaten into plowshares. That kind of thing.
“And there shall be endless peace.”
“Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.”
“We wait for the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
How wonderfully absurd!
Luke’s Gospel begins with a foreword that reads like an on-screen disclaimer at the beginning of a documentary: “You’re about to see an orderly account of events as they happened, as told by eyewitnesses.”
But don’t let Luke’s use of words like “orderly account” or “eyewitnesses” fool you. The stories that follow are downright absurd.
In those stories, an elderly priest is stricken mute after seeing an angel in the temple. His elderly, barren wife becomes pregnant. Her young, unmarried relative up in Nazareth also sees an angel and also becomes pregnant. Except she isn’t barren – her issue is that she’s never even been with a man.
This miraculously pregnant small-town virgin, Luke wants us to believe, is carrying a Spirit-conceived child who will be called the Son of God. And of this child’s kingdom, Luke’s angel tells the girl, there will be no end.
Luke goes on to report that the baby’s birth happens while the girl and her husband-to-be are on what is likely an unplanned road trip due to an imperial tax requirement down in the husband’s ancestral home.
Incidentally, this is the only time in this story we’ll see the name of the emperor – a man who, as far as the original hearers of this story understood, was probably the most powerful and wealthy person on earth. In what many insist is the greatest story ever told, Caesar Augustus is practically a footnote. How absurd.
This is a story about a baby. And this baby – this miraculous child Luke and his angels would have us believe is the child of the Most High God, the fulfillment of so much salvific divine purpose – is delivered in a stable.
He is then announced by a choir of angels – to some random, night-shift shepherds.
And this story, this luminous sign of universal divine favor, concludes with the ponderings of a young peasant who just gave birth in a barn in the dark in the middle of nowhere.
This, Luke tells us, is how God comes to us.
This, the astute compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary want us to recognize, is what it looks like for the light of the Wonderful Counselor/Mighty God/Everlasting Father/Prince of Peace to shine upon us. This is the kind of thing that calls for the entire earth to sing a new song to God. This is how the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.
Voltaire was right when he wrote that those who can make you believe absurdities can also make you commit atrocities.
I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it.
Just last week, I accepted an invitation to be a guest on a radio program here in Toronto. I was invited to comment on religious trauma in the wake of news about the death of a queer student at a local Christian university. The student had been advocating for the acceptance of LGBTQ+ people within the community and, after hitting one dead end after another, they took their own life.
Maybe it’s absurd to claim that, within these flawed, never-as-beautiful-as-we’d-like, often-disappointing little collections of flesh and blood we call bodies there is a reflection of God’s image.
But what happens when we change that absurdity a bit? What happens when we claim that some bodies more fully reflect the Divine than others? Or when we say those who simply live into their created identities are somehow marring the image of God?
From that absurdity, it’s a short journey to atrocity. It’s lethally short, in fact.
But what if the absurdities we’re made to believe are like the absurdities Luke packs into his nativity scene?
What if we’re outrageous enough to trust a story about peace on earth and good will for everybody?
What if we know enough to look for the Most High in a newborn’s vulnerability?
What if we really believed that some of the greatest truths come to us from some of the least privileged people?
What if we valued what is treasured in the hearts of more women?
What if the news is true, that a savior has been born?
And what if that means this world can be saved?
Editor’s note: This is the final article in a series for Advent 2022. Each week, an article will be published reflecting on one or more of the lectionary texts for the forthcoming Sunday. The previous articles in the series are:
Advent Lectionary | Flood Watch | Chase Caldwell
Advent Lectionary | The Music of Peace | Kali Cawthon-Freels
Advent Lectionary | Giving Voice to the Wilderness | George E. Oliver
Advent Lectionary | The Embodied Christ | Merianna Harrelson
After 20-plus years in Baptist ministry, Rev. Junia Joplin (she/her) now serves on the clergy team at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto – a vibrant, inclusive, and progressive faith community and human rights church. Junia is either a basic suburban hockey mom or a sign of the apocalypse, depending on who you ask. She is a member of the Good Faith Media strategic advisory board.