“The Poem: Subversion and the Summons”
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. —Isaiah 11:9
In poetry we can do things not permitted by logic or reason. Poetry will open the world beyond reason. Poetry will give access to contradictions and tensions that logic must deny. Poetry will not only remember but also propose and conjure and wonder and imagine and foretell.
So Jews, in their covenantal fidelity, did poems. Miriam did poetry when they crossed out of Egyptian slavery. Deborah did poetry when it dawned on them that the Canaanites were not so formidable. Hannah did poetry when little Samuel was born. Eventually Mary did poetry when she found out she was pregnant. All these mothers in Israel celebrated the impossible that was right before their eyes, even though they could explain none of it. They did poetry while the hard men were still parsing logic, writing memos to each other, and drafting briefs.
I propose that Advent is a time of struggle between the poem that opens the future that God will work and the memo that keeps control. Advent is a time for relinquishing some of the control in order to receive the impossible from God.
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. (vv. 6–7)
The old enmities, the old appetites of the food chain, the old assumptions of the survival of the meanest, all of that is subverted. The wild will not stay vicious, because the coming one, marked by righteousness and justice, will overrule raw power in the interest of new possibility. Finally, the young child will toy with the asp and the adder; nobody will get hurt, because the poison will be removed from the world. The poison will be gone because the shoot will override all business as usual. All will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.
The poem is about advent, about the coming one. And we dare to say, we confessing Christians, that the poem concerns the Christmas baby who refuses Rome’s rule of force and religion’s rule of code, opening the world to healing, freedom, forgiveness, and joy. So try this in Advent: depart from logic and memo and syllogism, and host the poem.
Break open our imaginations this Advent, O God, so that we might see a world decisively shaped by your fidelity. Aid us in relinquishing control in order to receive your newness. Amen.
Throughout Advent we invite you to join us as we prayerfully prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas with daily readings from Walter Brueggemann’s Devotions for Advent: Celebrating Abundance. They will be posted here daily with permission from the author, but we invite you to click the link to order your own copy.