"What happens to the guest who visits the house of a great musician," asks Hafiz of Shiraz, a fourteenth-century poet who wrote in Persia. "Of course, his tastes become refined."
I stumbled upon the above quote in Richard Kearney's excellent work Anatheism. The author's intent is to assess the situation we find ourselves in as a community of believers, believers who cannot help but to take notice of the wreckage and debris left in the wake of violence and atrocities done in the name of 'god'. The once-glittering idols that condoned cultures of silence (sex abuse) or cultures of violence (crusades, Inquisition) have been shattered - both by the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens but also by an acute sense of history.
Kearney's project is to probe the wreckage to see whether the space made in the destruction of idols, in the rubble left by the 'death of god', is actually the space through which we may encounter the "God after god." Once the appearance of the Holy Other is dictated not on our own terms but on the terms of the Divine, once our self-confidence and self-assuredness are lanced by the irruption of the Holy One into our lives, once we have marked ourselves as hospitable to the one who approaches us as a Stranger, then, perhaps, will we come to know the God who arises arises from the graveyard of the gods.
In these waning days of Advent, I am struck with the temptation to sign up for a course in wine-tasting. I enjoy drinking wine very much and I think that I would enjoy learning more about the varying varieties and vintages. It'd be nice, on my accounting, to find a way to apprentice myself to someone who could show me the ropes, who would show me how to refine my tastes and discern better what makes a wine good and what makes it great.
Isn't this the point of Advent? Not that we, of course, learn to distinguish wines but, rather, that we learn how to discern? So many of us feel the desire for more, feel that even after the hours spent shopping and wrapping and cleaning and baking...there is still something left. We can decorate trees, cook the ham, and put out our finest crystal goblets, but if the guest we wish most to honor is not present, there is something incomplete. If people very often report something of a let-down on Christmas, I reckon it's because they failed to recognize the one they had truly been waiting for, the One who is, to be a bit cliche, the "reason for the season."
It is my prayer, at least this year, that each of us has an experience of the Christ who comes after Christmas. In the sea of torn wrapping paper and half-eaten cookies and spilled red wine, I hope there is a moment when the heart's door feels a quiet knocking, an unexpected yet not unwanted interruption. The One you have been waiting for, the One who is so easily forgotten in the rush to Buy-Buy-Buy is there, and has been there, for a long time. Advent is not a season where He gets ready to visit you, as though He had to pack up the car and set out on a journey. Advent is for you, a time to prepare yourself, a time to exhaust yourself on the ten-thousand details that we are so good at obsessing over, while missing the one detail that is worth focusing on with our whole selves.
Christmas is not about getting it right. It's about getting it open. It's about risking to open our hearts and our lives to the knocking that rouses us from our sleep, to the cry that summons us to get out of our bed and investigate its source. Christmas is about taking a risk to be called away from our security and to enter into the adventure of discipleship. Christmas is about being apprenticed, year after year, in the school of hope...a school where the lesson bears us inevitably to the terror and glory of the Cross. May this season be the one where we invite the Stranger into our midst, where we welcome the Alien into our families. The gift this strangest of Strangers bears is not a good bottle of tequila or new hand towels. He brings us hope, a gift and a grace so desperately needed these days. Let us have the courage to accept this gift and all that comes with it: Know Hope, Know Risk.