Atheism is always a temptation. There is a certain relief that can come from finally giving up hope that what is expected simply isn’t, and won’t come. Particularly if you find yourself in the company of people who you don’t necessarily relate to on many levels. Atheism is at its core a desire for peace– peace from the ongoing effort to have faith in the face of challenges and struggle.
This seems clear from the fact that many people become atheists because they can’t square or reconcile the fact that God exists with all the apparently meaningless and painful things that seem to happen to them, or in the world in general. At some point it begins to make more sense to simply let go of the premise that God exists, because then the apparent randomness and apparent failure surrounding them seems to be more natural. Atheism is, in a most generous interpetation, a way to get God ‘off the hook’ for all the bad things that happen in the world. If God doesn’t exist, then its no wonder all this stuff happens…
The hope of Advent flies in the face of this atheistic rational tendency. It is the time of hope in the Christian calendar which remembers a hope that Jews had for many centuries that a messiah would come to bring salvation to humanity. And Christian Advent remembers this hope of expectation with a full knowledge that even after the fact of the messiah’s coming, it seems in some ways to be absolutely incredible– that one man/God, come in the form of a child, could provide a means of peace with God through his death. All of this strikes normal people, at some level, as incredible. If it is true, it is surely a very strange way for salvation to come to all of humanity.
And so the way of faith– of believing in this very strange means of bringing us close to God– is not so simple as a baby in a manger with sheep and straw. And to go past this bizzareness as though it is everyday normality is to ignore the fantastic craziness which is at the root of our faith.
But the strangeness and grace of the world we live in is often lost on us. It is easy to ask why this one abberation (pain, loss, harm, hurt) happened to us this one time, and to never ask why in the world normally we continue to live and breathe, enjoy and prosper in this strange amazing existence in the world. When we get cancer we ask, “why did this happen” while we had lived for 25 years prior without cancer never asking “why don’t I have cancer?”. We expect the good, and are surprised by anything other, and our anger is quickly turned towards the giver of all good things, despite our general lack of thankfulness for the good we get. We are surrounded by daily amazing miracles which we begin to accept as normal and commonplace, thereby becoming unaware of the miraculous fact of our existing at all. Our hearts become dull and our eyes blind to the miraculous which envelopes our lives.
In the same way, our sin and the need for reconciliation is severe and important– although it, too, can become so commonplace that we do not notice its radical importance. We lose our edge, our sense of brokeness and unnaturalness, as we become used to the unusual, accustomed to the dull deadness of our sin and hopelessness. We expect the broken, instead of the ideal. We mock perfection, as our lives themselves seem to be a mockery of the pure and good.
Most of us humans live our day to day lives in a haze of random muddle, struggling to get through to the next, doing the best we can sometimes, and other times aiming low. To have the hope of the infinite power of God invested in our lives through a free means of grace often seems so counter to the reality we live in that it seems fanciful– farcical even.
But advent calls us to this hope. To this fantastic incredible love of God which has come to us in the birth of Jesus Christ, somehow. Christians are called at this time of year to remember that we are called to the hope of a messiah, and the transformative power of Christ to bring this world back into full fellowship with Creator God. We are looking to the second coming of Christ– the Parousia– and we are called to participate in the regenerative restoration of the kingdom of God on earth– not through politics or propoganda, but through our living out our hope with abandon in the face of the apparent hopelessness which we encounter daily.
It is hard to be a Christian– to live our our Christian hope– somedays. But it is also an exciting challenge and our worldview is indeed radically different than the view of the atheist who often sees life through the lens of threat and burden, not through the eyes of grace and gift.
May God give us eyes to see and ears to hear– with hope. May God have mercy on us all.