Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas According to Mark: A Deconstructing Advent & Christmas

I'm normally very bitter about Christmas. I don't like crowds, shopping, and gimmicks. However, being a Scrooge is no fun.

Instead, I have been rethinking the Advent and Christmas season a little bit, as reflected in my two previous posts. This morning I was thinking about Advent again. The Advent wreath contains four candles arranged in a circle and one candle in the center of that circle. Often times when I think of circles, I think of Jacques Derrida who noted how circles are defined by a center, but the center is not part of the line that is the circle. In effect, the center is something transcendent to the circle ("Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences").

The concept of center is, well, central to how we understand Advent, Christmas, and life in general. Around the Advent wreath are candles representing hope, peace, joy, and love, concepts connected like radii to the center of the circle, connected to Christ and Christmas through the stories of Jesus's birth.

And already the circle is starting to re-de-fine and un-define. There are multiple Christmas stories, stories of Christ being born in and to humanity in Jesus. There is the story in Matthew, the story in Luke, the baptism of Jesus in Mark, and the abstract story in John, not to mention a number of stories that never made it into the canon.

I'm particularly interested in the stories that aren't birth narratives, but tell of Jesus' coming to Earth. The book of Mark opens: "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." According to Mark, the Good News of Christianity has nothing to do with Christmas, which is an understanding of Jesus, Christ, and the Gospel quite contrary to the portrayal in Matthew, Luke, the Nicene Creed, and the month of preparation Christians have observed for centuries, not to mention the long celebrations of the US "Christmas season."

If the author(s) of Mark were to celebrate Advent, they wouldn't be waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but rather the coming of Christ's movement in the life of people. For Mark, this coming didn't happen when Jesus was born, but rather when Jesus was baptized, reborn not of man and woman, but of God solely. In this story, Jesus' virgin birth was of God, not Mary.

And thus, Advent and Christmas are de-centered. Hope, peace, joy, and love are no longer connected to Christ through the generally-accepted reconstruction and assimilation of the stories Christmas. They may still be connected to Christ, but Jesus as the Christ--"born of the Virgin Mary"--is no longer that which defines them for this or any season.

Since deconstruction is not destruction, a de-centering of Advent and Christmas is not an end to Advent and Christmas. Advent can still be a season of anticipation--of hope, peace, joy, love, and Christ. A deconstructed Advent sees the themes inevitably and forever interconnected and interdependent, instead of four dependent on the one. Furthermore, a deconstructed Advent will embrace the interplay of anticipating and receiving, the already and the not-yet, of God's absence and presence, and of absence in presence in relation to hope, peace, joy, and love.

Christmas deconstruction will re-remember Christ in the various aspects and stories of Christ's "beginning" on earth, a beginning lacking an originary event. That is, Christ never came, but has always been coming and has always been here (to use some more deconstruction terms: a "hauntology" of Christmas in the "aporia" between presence/absence).

A deconstructing Christmas is one where "God so loved the world," not "God so loved all the people I love." Christmas would then lose and gain significance. It would lose the significance of gift-giving to those we love and being with those you love, it would no longer be a holy day (holiday), a day set apart and other than the rest of the days, because it would give significance to the rest of the days of the year by recognizing the Other and Otherness by asking for generosity, for hope, for peace, for joy, for love, for Christ, for "the Christmas spirit," to be a year-round thing, so these things are born every minute, not once a year.

A deconstructing Christmas would be an active holiday where significance needs to be created, not inherited. For all of these abstract terms--generosity, hope, peace, joy, love, Christ, Advent, Christmas--are merely abstract terms with no center defining. If we are to use them at Christmas or ever, they need to be embodied. Words don't mean, they are given meaning.

And so it was in Mark with Jesus. Jesus wasn't born the Christ. Jesus became the Christ by giving that term meaning--that was the beginning of the good news. Christmas is a time not only to remember, but to actively remember by continuing to create meaning for Christ, by continuing to create Christ, to birth Christ.

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