Waiting and resistance: Advent and Star Wars
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
November 27, 2019
For the third time in four years, a new Star Wars movie will be released during Advent. Just like a child opening an Advent calendar each day, getting closer to the big day, so Star Wars fans are counting down until the release of “The Rise of Skywalker.” But commercial Advent is not the same as liturgical Advent (despite the fact that conveniently, liturgical Advent this year actually begins on December 1st).
Advent means “come into being.” Advent is the four weeks before Christmas when we are actively watching and waiting for signs of Christ’s return in our world and in our lives. We prepare for Christmas each year to celebrate the incarnation, but also to remind and prepare us that Christ is coming again in a new way.
At Christmas, not only do we celebrate in wonder the Word becoming flesh, but we proclaim a new king, a sovereign over us that is not of this world. During the second century, the simple Christian confession “Jesus is Lord” was taken as an affront to the Roman emperor, whom Christians refused to worship. If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not.
Advent is a season of rebellion. Rebelling against the world in that we are waiting for a different king, a different kingdom. Rebelling against a consumer culture that has co-opted Christmas to be about buying more and having more under the guise of gift-giving. Rebelling against the very notion that somehow there is a “War on Christmas.” The United States is a majority Christian country, but the idea of acknowledging that there are other religions and traditions with “Happy Holidays” has become labeled as an attack on Christmas itself. Despite that Christmas now spills over into October in the stores (as I’m writing this) and on the Hallmark Channels (note the plural) with their 24/7 Christmas movies, any movement to change “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” is not seen as an opportunity to be more inclusive; instead, it falls under the umbrella of persecution according to certain media sources and leaders. Advent for the faithful rejects both the consumer Christmas that has been packaged and put on sale for us, as well as the fabricated “War on Christmas.”
Advent is resistance against the ways of this world, waiting for the king and the kingdom to come into our world and lives in a new way. The Star Wars franchise (yes, I realize the irony as I write this) has lifted up the hope of rebellion and resistance against the Empire/First Order. Led originally by a princess and a Jedi knight, the Resistance is now led by Finn—a former Stormtrooper, Rey—a nobody from Jakku, Poe—a rebellious pilot, and Rose—a mechanic. The new faces of the Resistance in this later trilogy have no legacy themselves, no name to live up to. They are, perhaps, more similar to our Mary and Joseph and shepherds in the field, who witnessed the birth of a new king, a resistance to the empire they had known.
Last June at the American Baptist Theologians Conference preceding the Mission Summit in Virginia Beach, Rev. Paul Schneider and I co-presented a paper on “The Hopepunk Gospel: Weaponizing Optimism in Resistance to a Grimdark World.” Hopepunk is a term coined by author Alexandra Rowland, as an opposite to grimdark, “a literary descriptor for genre texts and media which evoke a pervasively gritty, bleak, pessimistic, or nihilistic view of the world.”[i] Hopepunk instead is both “punk,” as in, fighting the man, fighting the machine, fighting the power—and hope. Hopepunk is characterized not only by the hopeful resistance, but that the resistance is often made up of people on the margins, the outcasts and outsiders. Creators of hopepunk are also often folks who are marginalized: women of color, LGBTQ, and disabled persons. The very act of creating is a resistance to the dominant empirical culture.
Therefore, Paul and I believe that the gospel is hopepunk. The writers were Jewish—a minority religion and culture in the Roman Empire. The people they wrote about were marginalized, the early Christians persecuted, and they told a story of a nobody born to nobody parents and laid in a manger, one that later would be called “King” as he was nailed to a cross. A movement of hope born out of his death, with women proclaiming the rebellion. Christ is risen! A resistance movement that experienced a new surge with the Holy Spirit and the early church in Acts, including women, persons with disabilities, rich and poor, Ethiopians and eventually Romans themselves. A movement built on hope, and love. As Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” said, “We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”[ii] The early church in Acts learned very quickly that they would survive persecution in their love and care for one another.
I’ve already noted the irony—I am one of those that bought tickets the day they went on sale and will be at the theater on December 20th to see “The Rise of Skywalker.” I am participating in the consumerism—as I’m sure most of us who live in the United States will, to some degree, participate in the consumerism at Christmas, because it is part of the world we are in. But perhaps Star Wars and Advent can teach us that while we are entertained now with movies and Christmas preparations, we are part of something greater than what we see. We are called to resist the empire of this world, and prepare for the true kingdom, the beloved community of Christ.
Perhaps Star Wars and Advent can teach us that while we are entertained now with movies and Christmas preparations, we are part of something greater than what we see. We are called to resist the empire of this world, and prepare for the true kingdom, the beloved community of Christ.
Advent isn’t just about waiting for Christmas, waiting to place the baby in the manger in our Nativity crèches. Advent is about resisting the empire around us—the empire of consumerism and consumption, the empire of majority that pushes minorities to the margins. Advent is about resisting the “War on Christmas” and instead saving what we love: that the Word became flesh and lived among us.[iii]
The Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell is pastor of Queen Anne Baptist Church, Seattle, Wash., and ministry associate of social media for the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches USA.