Advent is a Time to Recognize the Wonder of God with Us: An Interview with Scott Erickson
Have you lost the sense of just how full of amazing wonder Christmas is? Maybe for you, the joy of the season is painfully dissonant with the hard edges of life. Or maybe you feel wearied by the way Christmas has become a polished, predictable routine. Or maybe this sacred divine story is too confusing and feels too far removed from our modern world.
Bible Gateway interviewed Scott Erickson (@scottthepainter) about his book, Honest Advent: Awakening to the Wonder of God-with-Us Then, Here, and Now (Zondervan, 2020).
For those unaware, please explain the concept of Advent.
Scott Erickson: “Advent” in Latin means coming. So the season of Advent is an applied structure of anticipation for the coming of the newborn King. Advent will always be modeled best by the pregnancy experience. You adjust your life, rhythm, senses, and priorities around this new life that is coming into your midst. You’re preparing a place for Life to be amongst you. In the same way we do this in our faith communities: intentionally making a space for New Life to make his home with us.
What have you determined the difference to be between spirituality and religion, especially during Advent?
Scott Erickson: I came up with some definitions for spirituality and religion that help me a lot. Spirituality is the process of making what is invisible visible, and religion is the practices, rhythms, and rituals we develop around that visibility.
Christ incarnating 2,000 years ago was the ultimate spiritual expression—the unseen becoming seen. But the big question today: Is Christmas a memorial service or is it a birthday party? Meaning did Christ come only once or is Christ still coming into our midst?
Ask any kid in Sunday school what Christmas is and they’ll say, “It’s Jesus’ birthday!” So it’s a birthday party. So where’s the birthday boy?
Our religious traditions are the mechanics that help us get in touch with the essence—which is the living Christ. Service and giving help us embody grace. Music and singing let us corporately participate in worship to the Almighty. Humility and vulnerability become the very doorway of connecting with a God who came into our midst through human vulnerability. That’s where we find Jesus now: in the midst of our human vulnerabilities.
What is your objective in the devotions and artwork you’ve created in this book?
Scott Erickson: Wonder. Which seems like a no-brainer, but it’s actually a lot harder to do than you’d think. Wonder is hard to get to in our modern Christmas celebration because familiarity kills wonder. And our Christmas traditions run off of nostalgia and familiarity.
Wonder emerges from a place of not knowing. When you don’t have a narrative about a situation, or you don’t know how to explain what’s happening, you’re in a state of wonder; which I would describe as the rapturous state of being alive. Familiarity gives everything it’s label, definition, and place, and categorizes it in your brain so you know what to do with it the next time you see it.
To try to bring the reader into wonder means that I had to unknow all the things I thought I knew about this incarnation story. I mean, this is what I started doing years ago myself when I was desperately longing for the wonder of the incarnation in my life. I’m only inviting the reader into the same transformation I was willing to do myself.
Why did you select the word “honest” to be included in the title?
Scott Erickson: I think it’s interesting that faith communities can be about “truth” but can be frightened of honesty.
Honesty sees what is real—the real state of the matter—and that can be frightening to religious communities when you don’t want to look at the doubts, inconsistencies, and failures that religion and faith can perpetuate.
My deepest question years ago was wondering if Christmas offered any hope in the chaotic and messy world I found myself in. Was it just sentimental pageantry or was it spiritual participation. What I was longing for was an honest hope; a hope that was robust enough to handle the complex reality I find myself in. In order to get to an honest hope, I had to start with an honest Advent.
Your art is evocative. Select one or two, describe them, and explain why you drew them as you did.
Scott Erickson: I would say my art is evocative because it’s unexpected. The Christmas tradition has cemented a visual brand of the whole story that frankly I’m pushing against. I wanted to make imagery that looked nothing like the brand of Christmas.
My first favorite image is a cover of an image of Mary and Eve originally created by Sister Grace Remington. It shows pregnant Mary holding Eve’s cheek with one hand and grabbing Eve’s hand and placing it on her pregnant belly. I love the image so much. It’s had such a huge affect on me because I see it as two moms meeting who both lost their children too soon, which is one of the deepest heartbreaks of a parent.
The second is Mary holding newly emerged baby Jesus, while kneeling in her own birthing blood. Human birth is not void of fluids, and yet most every painting of Jesus’ birth has left this fact out. I understand the censoring, but I wanted to put it back in because I think the fluids are the whole point. We’re flesh and blood. And the wonder of the incarnation is God taking on all the fluids that come with incarnation.[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Looking for Light: An Advent Journey through Scripture]
How do our assumptions about the Christmas story hinder our spiritual journey?
Scott Erickson: Assumptions hinder any story because they’re based in premature conclusions. Assumptions have gathered as little information as possible and have formulated a narrative about what’s happening and what the future is going to be like.
What’s amazing about the Christmas story is that it helps us see that the anecdote for assumptions is surprise. Surprise is the embodied emotional response of “I did not see that coming!” Grace is surprise.
Presence is surprise. Weakness is surprise. Birth is surprise. The wonder of the incarnation story is that everyone involved—from humans to angels—in their own way exclaimed, “I did not see that coming!”
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What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Scott Erickson: I’m a Christian because of the resurrection, but I’m also a Christian because of the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
If the story of God incarnating into a human life didn’t involve him crying at his friends funeral, then I wouldn’t believe it. Because I’ve cried at my friend’s funeral—and you have, too—and it would mean that God was insulated from one of the hardest aspects of our human existence: our fragile mortality.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Scott Erickson: Love it. I use it weekly if not almost every day. Thanks for the wonderful resource!
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Scott Erickson: “Be Not Afraid” could be a legitimate substitute for “Merry Christmas.” I give you that to ponder this Advent season!
Honest Advent is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Scott Erickson is a touring painter, performance storyteller, and creative curate who mixes autobiography, biblical narrative, and visual aesthetics that speak to our deepest experiences. He is currently touring his multi-media storytelling piece, “Say Yes: A Liturgy of Not Giving Up on Yourself,” and is the coauthor of Prayer: Forty Days of Practice and May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord’s Prayer. Scott is most loved by his wife, Holly, and their three children in Austin, TX.
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May 14, 2021