“It is impossible to repristinate a past world picture by sheer resolve, especially a mythical world picture, now that all of our thinking is irrevocably formed by science. A blind acceptance of New Testament mythology would be simply arbitrariness; to make such acceptance a demand of faith would be to reduce faith to a work.” Rudolph Bultmann
The preacher at my ordination to the priesthood (The Rev. Jonathan Sams) evoked an image of me as a survivor of some future apocalypse huddled with a community of folks in the hills of Southern Indiana trying to determine the date of Easter by using the “Golden Number.” It was even funnier then than it seems now, given my complete lack of facility with complicated number schemes not to mention the iconoclasm embedded in my character.
The annual confrontation with Advent activates the discord in my soul about all things religious.
If left alone, either in the hills of Southern Indiana or holed up anonymously in an urban apartment, would I continue to keep time the way the church has over the millennia? My wife made an Advent Wreath for our table as has been the custom in our house for more than three decades, but if she hadn’t would I have done it?
The problem with demythologizing is where to put the period at the end of it.
When we start pulling the loose threads of tradition it unravels so fast in the presence of a secularized worldview that before you know it the garment may disappear altogether. That is the fear of course, of those who resist any demythologizing – the fear of the slippery slope that turns into a greased waterslide. But rigidity in the face of actuality creates a far worse set of problems than runaway demythologizing. FYI: We do not get a bye.
But for people like me, demythologizing is not an option – it happens routinely, naturally, instinctively. I can’t help pulling up the carpet to see what the floor underneath looks like; nor asking what assumptions have been piled on top of which texts, and what are the presumptions underneath those texts? I suspect I would abandon the effort to use the “Golden Number” for finding the date of Easter and when the first buds appeared on the bushes and trees we would celebrate.
Likewise, Advent seems impossibly archaic to me. We long ago lost the battle for Christmas and trying to hold back the sappy music and red bow culture with apocalyptic literature and purple just doesn’t seem possible to me. Better to re-group, look at where we are now, and imagine a new way forward. My strategy, if it were up to me, would be to reimagine altogether, a liturgical start to the New Year. Better yet, I would be inclined to make the church calendar line up with the one everyone else follows and make Christmas the big end of the year bash it actually is – and celebrate the Jesus narrative in its entirety (not focus on the nativity).
But, for good or for ill, I don’t get to make decisions for the church. I am only an irritant that also gets irritated by the contradictions and tensions. Advent, the baby Jesus, and the Golden Number are safe for now.