This third week of Advent we are happy to welcome a guest post about the deep magic of Advent by Rev. Mary Elizabeth Hill Hanchey. This Advent we partnered with Mary Elizabeth and her friend and collaborator Carlye Daugird to share Advent resources for 2020.
I asked Mary Elizabeth, Carlye and 3MMM Director of Media and Engagement, Rev. Dr. Erin Robinson Hall, what questions would be guiding them through Advent this year. I think you will love their responses. ~Eileen
Deep Magic, Not Cheap Tricks
By Rev. Mary Elizabeth Hill Hanchey
Advent (and then Christmas) is a season in which the church is called upon to tell a well-rehearsed story in ways that are true and meaningful so that ears might hear and hearts might be prepared for the One who changed everything to break into our lives again. This storytelling is always a part of the church’s work in the world – to whisper truth to us about who we are and from whom we have come – stories that help us understand the merciful, sacrificial, and wise love of Jesus.
Inconveniently, we tell this story against a backdrop in which a lot of other people – and corporations – are telling a similar story in ways that seem more fun, but which are ultimately less real and less true.
This week my son commented on the “very fine line between church Christmas and Santa.” I asked him to tell me more and he said he just wished we did not have to work so hard to keep them separate. This is a conversation that I am sure we will continue having for years to come, and I am not really sure where his thinking was leading him. (He was likely reflecting on the fact that Santa decorations reside in one part of our home, and creche and angles reside in another.)
But I do know that he is already coming to understand something with which all Christians must struggle: this endeavor is difficult work.
We have a story to guard. Truth to seek. And Magic to embrace.
— Three Minute Ministry Mentor (@3MinuteMin) December 14, 2020
Magic? Magic in the church’s Christmas?
I came near to magic this week. The grandmother told a long and beautiful story, full of love and loss and magic – a story that helped the children to understand their own story – who they are in the world and from whom they had come.
“Why didn’t you tell us before?” the child asked her Grandmother.
“I had to wait for the right moment. When you were ready for the magic. Because it’s been ready for you.” Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, Netflix (2020).
This has something to do with faith formation – I thought.
This has something to do with preparing people to encounter holy mystery.
Magic can be a helpful way to talk about the mysteries of our faith. In The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis tells of the mystical reality he calls “Deeper Magic from before the dawn of time.” This magic undergirds the story arc of children coming to understand their own story. They know who they are in the world and from whom they came. They come to understand the merciful, sacrificial, and wise love of Aslan.
During Advent, this idea that “magic” and “mystery” are a part of our faith can be poignant and freeing! Using the idea of “Deep Magic” and the “Deeper Magic” can give us a hook on which to hang our unbelief, our doubts, our quibbles with reason and logic. It makes space for that sense that we simply cannot fully articulate the faith that we profess.
Or the scripture that we recite.
Or the hymns in which we soak.
It makes space for the sense that there is something even deeper than what we first come to understand. This idea of “magic” and “mystery” can help draw near to truths that seem inexplicable.
And the idea that the magic is, and has been, ready for us, but that we are not always ready for it – is critical for those who think about how we engage in faith formation.
This is a season when we come face to face with holy mystery, and it is also a season when holy mystery – and deep magic – are polluted by our striving to create cheap magic.
Indeed, preparing hearts for the One who changed everything requires attention to how we tell the story of Jesus as well as attention to how we tell stories about playful and fleeting magic.
God and Santa
Christians find themselves in a difficult position when God and Santa get conflated, for instance. It is difficult, to say the least, to teach a child that there is an ancient and eternal giver of good things who knows us by name. This one, it turns out, is not real. And simultaneously we aim to teach them to love an ancient and eternal Giver of Good Things who knows us by name, and who is the center of our faith. Perhaps all we need to do is add capital letters, but I think that might be lost on lots of folx.
And what happens when we spend years suggesting an external impetus for good behavior – one based on spying and reporting to the giver of good things, but then expect our children to draw near to God for comfort and healing?
This season can be so very full of cheap tricks: of asking children to believe in, and encouraging reasonable adults to glorify, magic that has no undergirding.
And providing a diet of cheap tricks can suppress one’s appetite for beautiful mystery. Filling up on junk can make it hard to drink in the lifegiving and salvific deepest magic. Giving children magic before they are ready can keep them from being formed by holy mystery when they are.
How might the church preserve the magic and mystery until folx are ready for it? How might we safeguard the holy mystery that has been, and will be, ready for us?
Perhaps we begin by only telling each other things that are true.
In this season of Advent, let us draw near to the mystery of the holy birth, the mystery of God’s deep and abiding love for us, and the mystery of the inbreaking of Jesus into our world again. Let us create space for those who are not yet ready for this magic to begin drawing near. And let us choose, carefully, which stories we amplify. It is the Deeper Magic from before the dawn of time that has the power to save us.