Today, in 500 words or less, I am going to attempt to explain the idea of eschatology. I have to. I can't let the Christmas season go by without it.
Eschatology (say it with me, es-ka-TOL-o-gee) is basically the part of theology that deals with what Tim LaHaye-types like to call "The End Times." Revelation, armageddon (the event, not the movie), the Left Behind series---they're all eschatology. Basically, anything that has to do with how the world ends, and usually the part that God plays in all that, has to do with eschatology. In a broader sense, it also encompasses anything to with the Messiah or the Messianic Age (which is supposed to bring peace and justice).
Under 75 words, not too bad.
So why am I bringing this up at Christmas? Because Christmas is an eschatological (es-kat-o-LOG-i-cal) holiday. Don't believe me? Check out the lyrics to a holiday favorite:
O Come, O come Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel Who lays in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel
Here's Jewish History 101: First, there was Abraham. Then there were a few more people, then there was Jacob, who wrestled with God and therefore received the name Israel ("he who wrestles"), from which the nation of people is named. Then they were in Egypt. Then they weren't in Egypt any more (think "The Ten Commandments"). Then they were in the desert. Then they were in the Promised Land. Then they were exiled (kicked out) of the Promised Land. Then they were let back in. Then the Romans came in and colonized them, so essentially they were exiled without actually being kicked out of their land.
See the connection? The Son of God or Messiah (Jesus, to Christians) was supposed to deliver Israel. I promise that the Messiah does have to do with the end of the world, but I'm not going to go into it because that gets into really deep waters and we start using words like "inaugurated eschatology" and "supercessionism" and I'm on vacation and therefore refuse to use too many words over four syllables. Just trust me on it.
So, if you understand what I just tried to explain, while you're singing through some of your favorite hymns this Sunday and Monday, try to find some eschatological references. I dare you.
Tonight I almost fell asleep on the floor of the Christian Spirituality section of Barnes n Noble while last-minute shopping with my dad. It was not good for a multitude of reasons. Let me see if I can put this adequately: going last-minute Christmas shopping with my dad is like going for a leisurely bike ride with Lance Armstrong. He's the master of the last-minute gift; one time, he and my sister went to the mall on Christmas Eve around 1 in the afternoon, gift-less, and returned around 5 with presents for everyone (some of them already wrapped) and a giant box of rolls from Cinnabon. They're pretty much last-minute-gift-buying Jedi to my Padawan, so the night was doomed from the start in terms of Christmas cheer.
Thus, I found myself in Barnes n Noble five days before Christmas, over-stimulated by the lethal combination of Starbucks cinnamon smell, Frank Sinatra Christmas music, and way too many Joyce Meyer books on a three foot long shelf. And frustrated. Boy, was I frustrated. You see, every year I get my mom a devotional for Christmas. This being no different than any year (and it being an incredibly convenient gift for a Bible major to give) I headed over to the Christian Spirituality section to accomplish my gift-giving goal. No such luck. As I stood with my head tilted at an uncomfortable 45-degree angle wondering why they don't just stack the books horizontally so you can actually read the titles without having to go to the chiropractor, I realized that being a Bible major has threatened to ruin any ability I once had to celebrate Christmas like a normal person. At school we (half-jokingly) started calling Christmas the "Feast of the Incarnation" to make it more theologically appropriate, and I think that was the start of all my cynicism; most of what we do at Christmas (even if it's buying religious-themed gifts like devotionals) has very little to do with the message of Christmas itself. Count two against me on the Christmas-cheer-o-meter.
I sat down, frustrated, staring at off-center titles like "How to Pray and Get What You Want" (since when was prayer ever a request line?) and "The Power of a Praying Wife" (one would think that the power lays with, say, God, but that may just be me). The closest I got to finding something was a book for myself written by the late Pope John Paul II that I thought would give me and my Catholic boyfriend something to talk about. When I realized that my Catholic boyfriend and I have more to talk about than the fact that he's Catholic, I put it back on the shelf and continued my search for a proper gift for Mom.
No such luck. Count three. I was officially in Scrooge mode.
Is it possible to be a Bible scholar and still enjoy Christmas? After my class on the Gospel of John this semester, I've enjoyed the season and its Biblical significance a bit more, but I can't help going to buy presents or making cookies and wondering what it has to do with a baby in a manger. Everytime I see a Christmas card with a manger scene, complete with snow and animals that I'm pretty sure didn't live in the Ancient Near East two thousand years ago, I find myself scoffing and wanting to point out to the world that Jesus was in all reality probably born in March, not December (on a side note, one of my professors is still devastated over the day that he made one of his students cry when he told her that Jesus wasn't actually born on December 24th--this is the main reason that I haven't shared this little fun fact with anyone). It isn't exactly conducive to the best of Christmas cheer.
Just now, in the process of typing this entry, something hit me. Go back a paragraph. See that line "Everytime I see a Christmas card..."? I'll let you go back and reread that. Very good. The part that hit me was the "two thousand years" bit. It's huge. Do you realize that what we're doing now, celebrating Christmas (no matter how commercialized it's become), is a Church tradition that's been around for centuries? If you think about it, it's pretty cool. We're joining in celebration with Christians from hundreds of years ago all celebrating the same thing: that two thousand years ago, God became a human so we could have eternal life. It's pretty amazing if you put it that way, I think.
So maybe I couldn't find a devotional I was theologically satisfied with for my mom. And maybe the fact that Jesus wasn't born in December isn't something to get so up in a tizzy about. I think this year I really will (as cheesy as it is) remember the reason for the season, frustrated Bible major-ness notwithstanding, and just enjoy the hundreds of years of Church tradition that I'm participating in...and maybe try to finish up my shopping as quickly as possible.
So here we are, 18 days after the Liturgical New Year and how many of my resolutions have I kept? Let's see...
1) "Go to church more often"---check. In fact, I went to church the very next day. Yay! 2) "Pray more often"--check. Actually, that's probably a topic for another entry. Double yay! 3) "Update Blog more often"--failed. Miserably.
Two out of three really isn't all that bad. Bear with me, people....
After reading the title of this entry, you may be a bit confused. You may wonder if I've written one too many papers and my brain has turned to goo (in reality, it's more like 23587093847642 too many papers, but moving on...) You may wonder why on earth I am wishing everyone a Happy New Year.
I'm not crazy, I promise.
It is, in fact, that time of year. Time to bust out the kazoos, confetti, and rosaires. And so I say to one and all....
Happy Liturgical New Year!
That's right, folks, advent is the liturgical new year, the re-setting of the Church year, the new beginning for matters of faith. In keeping with the traditions of New Year celebrations, I've decided to compile a short list of Liturgical New Year Resolutions:
1) Go to church more often (Bible majors are still college students who enjoy sleeping in, trust me) 2) Pray more often (see previous entry) 3) Update blog more often
I'll probably add some more, but I say the fewer you have, the more likely you are to keep them.
A highly contradictory organic-eating, designer brand-wearing, simplicity-seeking, indie bookstore-working writer/cellist/crochet-er extraordinaire/pseudo-hipster/newlywed who is simultaneously heartbroken by and in love with the Church, adventures in Alaska, and her authorial aspirations, and who always loves her growing family, her husband, and you, if you are reading this blog.