Bodies at Work

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Advent is a time of reflection. A time to meditate on the darkness of our lives and world, and to anticipate the coming of light in the form of Christ.

Notice, that doesn’t say spiritual reflection.

Advent certainly is a time for us to think critically about our spiritual selves, the innermost thoughts and emotions that we hold, and our faith practices. It is a time for us to be mindful of the ways in which we have lived into our brokenness, rather than the hope of our future wholeness. But one crucial element of this season is the need for reflecting on our physical selves. Advent allows us a chance to see our bodies as the site of God’s movement, just like Jesus’s birth.

Bear in mind, the holy day that marks the end of Advent is the commemoration of Jesus being born, physically, of a real woman, with real labor and contractions, real sweat and yelling and tears of both pain and joy and overwhelmed-ness. There is pushing, sometimes pulling, grunting, flexing, fluids, and mess, in all births. Why would we picture Christmas as any different?

Anyone who has been in a birthing room knows that there is a true sense of physicality to a baby, and yet we almost always picture a serene Jesus, washed and dry, laying contented in a manger lined with clean clothes. Mary, despite the hard work of birth, gazes with a smile as soft as the Mona Lisa. No one’s clothes are mussed, there isn’t any blood on the clothes presumably used to wipe down Jesus, no one’s eyes are puffy from crying. Check out the next nativity scene you come across – does it look like a young girl actually gave birth, or does it look like a still from an animated movie?

Advent should be our time to confront this. We are embodied people, living our lives not inside bodies like little machines, space ships, or race cars, but as bodies. When Jesus reminds his disciples at his final meal that this bread is his body, he makes a claim that physicality is important. That our bodies are our selves. And this makes Christmas all the more holy.

A pregnant woman receives a beautiful, but often difficult, 9-month sign of a baby. Her organs shift, the baby grows, the belly expands. Her advent is embodied in the gestational change she sees in the mirror each day. And the event she waits and prepares for – the birth – is no less physical than the waiting.

This Advent, we have the choice to look to our spiritual lives and reflect on our brokenness. But we also have the chance to look truly at ourselves and the people around us, acknowledging what is right and good and hard and messy about the physical space we inhabit. How might our Advent be shaped by our awareness of smell – pleasant aromas of baking and perfume, and difficult aromas of someone who hasn’t had access to a shower or clean clothes? How can it be shaped by sight – smiling children and funny sweaters, but also hard-earned lines of worry in the faces of our elders, and the acknowledgement that life has looked so different for those who look different from us? How can we let Advent and Christ redeem our physical, tangible, touch-able, messy, sweaty, painful, gross, beautiful bodies?

This Christmas Eve, which doubles as the final Sunday in Advent, we will meditate and pray through artwork which raises these same questions. Come and join us, bringing your body into worship together with us, as we celebrate and anticipate the arrival of a truly incarnate – in body-ed – God.

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