Book Excerpt: 'Counter Liturgy' by Sam Davidson
The following is an excerpt from Sam Davidson's forthcoming book, Counter Liturgy: Common Prayers of Formation and Resistance (Vol 1: Advent and Christmas).
As we learn to practice waiting during the season of Advent, we also deepen our understanding of the weightiness of Christmas. We learn that the coming of God is not predictable, not under our control, and not something that we can manufacture. Learning to wait means learning to wait for something; and so it means learning to recognize our present need. It means facing the frightening reality that apart from God breaking into our broken hearts and broken world, we are left entirely to our own devices. This is why Advent is a challenge to us; this is why the world wants nothing to do with the season of waiting. And it is why the world cannot understand the meaning of Christmas in all its magnitude, in all of its world-upheaving significance.
It is only when we have learned to wait for God, and in so doing learned of our own helplessness, that God’s coming is good news. If we have not yet seen this, if we continue to hold out hope in the goodness of people or the common spirit of humanity, the coming of God will be to us inconsequential. It will be simply the affirmation of all that we already believe, the basic confirmation of the world the way it is. If we have not learned to wait, God’s coming at Christmas is merely God co-signing our way of life, God putting the quaint and sentimental finishing touches on our Norman Rockwell holiday goodwill.
And yet, paradoxically, it is only when we have seen, really seen God in the manger that we are capable of recognizing our helplessness, our feebleness, our need to wait. Only in light of God’s revelation, in light of the man Jesus Christ, can we truly come to see that the way things are—the way we are—is not the way things should be. Only when we see that God has broken into the world do we see the world’s utter need of God. Only when Light shines do we realize the depths of darkness in which we have toiled.
When we encounter the Hope of all creation, we recognize the insufficiency of all those worldly systems and people and material things in which we have placed our hopes and dreams. When we see the Love of God revealed in a manger and on a cross, we discover how paltry are our ideas of love as tolerance and acceptance. In the Joy of Mary’s Magnificat, in the Joy of heaven cracking open for angels to proclaim the birth of the world’s true king, we discover that all earthly enjoyment pales in comparison to the Joy of creation being made right by its Creator. In the Peace that Jesus Christ proclaims, in the peace that he gives and the peace that he is, we find an entirely new way to live—a new kind of Hope, a new way of Love, a new source of Joy.
By celebrating Advent, we learn that Christmas is a miracle. We learn that while God is Lord of history and has long been at work through the people of Israel to bring about the world’s redemption, Christmas is anything but expected and predictable. We learn to not simply uphold the virgin birth as a matter of doctrinal orthodoxy, but to recognize the unfathomable significance of the confession that the God who spoke creation into existence is also Emmanuel, God with us. We learn the magnitude of what it means to say that God became human.
In the Incarnation, we discover that for all of our pious talk and noble ideas and logical systems, God is nothing like what we could have expected. The Incarnation is more than an affirmation of a traditional idea about God. To confess the Incarnation, to confess the truth of Christmas, is to proclaim that this baby is God. It is to declare that God has become human in this man, in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It is to proclaim that what this human being does and says is what God does and says.
At Christmas, we meet the one in whom and through whom all things were created—in a baby that will die on a Roman cross, because the powers of the world feared the truth that he spoke. At Christmas, we meet the Truth in person, the Word through whom all things came into being, the power of the Creator on display in the weakness of a poor Jewish child at the margins of society. At Christmas, we discover that the rulers of the world were right to fear this child, for in him we find that God is not on the side of the wealthy and powerful, but the poor and oppressed. At Christmas we find that God does not show up in the places where we would expect, and does not use the means that we, in all of our wisdom and worldliness, would recommend.
Counter Liturgy: Volume 1 is now available for pre-order.
has a B.A. in Religion from Baylor University and (almost) a Masters of Divinity from George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, TX, where he lives with his wife Alexis. He hates blogs, including his own, which is called “Pontifications. And Stuff.” He is also a waiter, a graduate assistant, and a Seminary Fellow at the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.