Stanley Hauerwas is a theologian who really challenged my thinking this year. While I find myself disagreeing with some of his conclusions and assertions, I find that he often has a way of pointing to particularly good but hard truths for those trying to live with faithful Christian presence. His recent thoughts on Christmas in light of the reality of Mary and Joseph is a great example of this. While reflecting on conservatism and liberalism with Mary as a point of contention in ideologies:
Mary and Joseph are not ideas. They are real people who made decisions on which our faith depends. Christianity is not a timeless set of ideas. Christianity is not some ideal toward which we ought always to strive even though the ideal is out of reach. Christianity is not a series of slogans that sum up our beliefs. Slogans such as “justification by grace through faith” can be useful if you do not forget it is a slogan. But Christianity cannot be so easily “summed up” even by the best of slogans or ideas. It cannot be summed up because our faith depends on a young Jewish mother called Mary.
Mary and Joseph are real people who had to make decisions that determined the destiny of the world. Isaiah had foretold that a Mary would come, but we had no idea what Isaiah’s prophecy meant until Mary became the Mother of God. This is no myth. These are people caught up in God’s care of his people through the faithfulness of the most unlikely people. They are unlikely people with names as common as Mary and Joseph, but because of their faithfulness our salvation now depends on acknowledging those names.
Advent is a time the church has given us in the hope we can learn to wait. To learn to wait is to learn how to recognize we are creatures of time. Time is a gift and a threat. Time is a gift and a threat because we are bodily creatures. We only come into existence through the bodies of others, but that very body destines us to death. We must be born and we must die. Birth and death are the brass tacks of life that make possible and necessary the storied character of our lives. It is never a question whether our lives will be storied, but the only question is which stories will determine our living in and through time.
Stories come in all shape and sizes. Some are quite short, such as the story of a young Texan trying to figure out what it means to believe or not believe in the virgin birth. Other stories are quite long, beginning with “In the beginning.” We are storied by many stories, which is an indication that we cannot escape nor should we want to escape being captured in and by time.
I particularly like Hauerwas’s connection of the biblical story to time, something that has come up a lot this last half of the year (like with Ephraim Radner’s book on mortality).
From there, Hauerwas connects his thinking to that of Charles Taylor, whose tome A Secular Age has been quite influential over the last few years (and “popularized” by the work of James K. A. Smith).
It’s a good piece to end this season of Advent. It answers some questions while begging others, which is good and fine. You can read the rest of the article here.
(image from biblestudytools.com)