Practical Theology and Subversive Advent

On the sofa

We’ve been dealing with expectations around here today.  Blue has a cold. Too much of a cold to share with the kids at his nursery so he’s staying home. I had expected time today get to the new week on the go – maybe stir-up some baking, get through some reading.  And Blue, learning that he was to be planted at home, expected a wonderful morning of jumping around the living room with me, playing pirate ship.

As the lady in my in-laws car says: “recalculating.”

Instead, we read some Asterix , made some noodle soup, built some towers, sniffled some more, and washed our hands a hundred times. Now, he’s on the sofa wrapped up in his Oma-quilt, sniffily watching Tom and Jerry, and I’ve found some time to open up next week’s scripture passages. And John the Baptism is shouting REPENT. Recalculate. Reconsider. There are better plans, and you better be part of them.

Enter subversive advent. Not love and baking. Not sentiment. No sweet children or the magic of waiting. Instead, shouts to shape up. Turn that boat around and remember where you should be going on. Be better. Be ready. Prepare for the Way.

If Advent is a time to review our expectations, then John is the perfect spokesman. He’s loud, direct, and very specific.  John’s good news is news of good. He is describing and prescribing a Good way to live.

What strikes me in reading this is how John starts with identity and ends up with action. He begins by calling the crowd a brood of vipers – a lovely bit of creative name-calling there. The Baptiser insists that identity can’t just come from family connection. The God-relationship is a covenant relationship so it entails action on both sides. God acts first, and then we are called to respond. We can’t take God’s (or Abraham’s) action as the sole definer of our identity. For it to be a covenant, we need to take an active part.  And if our actions are looking snaky, well then it might be time to recalculate.

10And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

This is practical theology.  There’s great specificity to this passage. John speaks directly to several groups, identifying specific good actions. DIY ABC with a complete to –do list.

What should we do – consider the coats in your cupboard. Consider the chairs at the table. Consider the money in the bank. Consider the people you pass on the street. Consider your own actions. Don’t get tripped up on any of your expectations, but pay attention to the specific call of God. That’s a good Advent call.

But it isn’t just the answers that are important – it’s also the question. Asking the question “what then should we do?” is letting God get internal.  It’s letting our specific context become the location of the good news. Not claiming Abraham as an ancestor so much as asking God to birth newness through us.

With asking hearts in these Advent days, we still await and celebrate God with us.


If you are looking for children’s books to tie in to this week’s reading, here’s a great source. I like the recommendations because they help our family think more broadly and deeply about the storybooks we read. There are some real treasures to share at this time of year and I appreciate the link to some of the more difficult advent readings.  Here’s one for your bookmarks.

How’s Advent with you? Have you been able to take the pace slowly? What’s helping? I’ve been loving the December Photo Project. It’s been a great window on diverse advents – and also a nice growing community. I have been posting my photos via their facebook group, happy to discover some interesting new (to me) blogs and  and delighted to find Messy Table readers there, too.



About Katie Munnik

Katie Munnik is an Ottawa writer currently living in Cardiff with her Spouse and three growing children. Each Monday on the Messy Table, she writes about the practice of reading lectionary and the practical theology of parenting - from birthday cakes to broken hearts and everything in between. Katie also writes Kaleidoscopically, a monthly column in the print edition of the Presbyterian Record. You can also find Katie on twitter @messy_table Subscribe to this blog.