In northern and western Europe in the 4th century AD, in the month of December, Christian missionaries emphasized repentance for new converts and spiritual disciplines for believers in preparation for the baptismal festival of Epiphany on January 6. Advent in those regions was not a time of joyful preparation for Christmas, but of solemn reflection as people looked toward a day of renewal and redemption on Epiphany and the Day of Judgment when Jesus came again.
In northern Mississippi in the 21st century AD, on December 8, the second Sunday of Advent, I attended a production of The Nutcracker put on by a local dance center. The show took place in a deconsecrated Protestant church that has been turned into an arts venue. The particular congregation that used to occupy the building practiced baptism by immersion, in keeping with their tradition.
The chancel was now the stage, but the baptistery remained (drained and dry, of course). The dance company used it creatively for certain scenes. The most striking were the ones in which, behind a mist from the baptistery, the shelf-sized nutcracker becomes life-size, and then later, becomes a real boy prince for Clara. In other words, these were times of transformation.
I not only found the director’s use of the baptistery space imaginative, I found it theologically profound, given the original connection of Advent with baptism. In that sacrament, we too are transformed, I dare say, into princes and princesses or even more, into full-fledged monarchs. “[He has] made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father….” the seer of Revelation says (1:6). We are given a new status, a fresh identity, a different purpose in baptism.
And like Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, the Sugar Plum Fairy’s son, we will have many adventures of discovery on our amazing journeys into wonder.
© 2013 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.