For a child is born to us, a son is given to us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
— (Is. 9:5)
My regular spiritual reading list is almost impossibly eclectic. At the top of my list at the moment are fourth century Father of the Church John Chrysostom’s reflections on Christmas, 20th century Christian apologist C.S. Lewis’ essay “The Weight of Glory,” theologian Karl Rahner S.J.’s Advent homilies — and Radio Free Babylon’s edgy (and occasionally over the edge) cartoon strip, “Coffee with Jesus.”
In the strip, Jesus wears a suit and tie, and cradles a steaming mug of coffee as he talks to a cast of characters that could come straight from my local Starbucks: a mother in a hurry, a local pastor, a salesman between calls. And when it appears in my Facebook feed, it always jars me out of my complacency.
The cartoon strip and St. John Chrysostom have more in common than you might think. They share an unflinching perspective on the lived Christian life. “And what about His hunger, cold, chains, nakedness and sickness? What about His homelessness? Are these sufferings not sufficient to overcome your alienation?” comes the voice of the golden-tongued preacher across the centuries. Can I be attentive to the suffering of the mentally ill woman across from me in the ER waiting room? Or do I look away, pretend I don’t hear her?
Radio Free Babylon’s Jesus, responding to a character’s decision to donate to a canned food drive, minces no words either: “And by ‘some stuff,’ you mean some rusty cans of turnip greens and other things you were never going to eat?” Ouch. How generous is my heart, I wonder?
As I put out the manger scene at home this week, I thought about how many times I have contemplated Jesus, like the shepherds, silent in his crib, and been consoled by the thought of God made man, present with us. I wonder if I find this moment in the Gospel so consoling because Jesus is an infant and can’t yet talk. Would I find it as reassuring to sit down with Jesus and have a cup of coffee?
In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola suggests trying just that. Talk to Jesus, Ignatius urges, as one friend might to another; use your imagination to set the stage for this kind of prayerful reflection with God; don’t let historical detail overly constrain you.
This Christmas season, when I take my cup of tea to sit by the nativity scene on the windowsill to contemplate the Incarnation, instead adoring the infant Savior, I’m imagining that the adult Jesus has stopped by for coffee on His birthday.
Could I manage not to fuss about with getting out the good china and warming the teapot, and instead grab two mugs and pour us both a cup of what I have already made? What would He ask me? How would I respond? Could I hear what He had to say to me? The challenging as well as the consoling?
Would I have the courage to listen, rather than speak? To imagine not falling on my knees in adoration when the angels sing, but instead to turn down the Christmas music, pick up my cup, sit down and listen to He who we call Wonder-Counselor and Prince of Peace. Jesus. The Word made flesh.
May God, the Lord, bless us and make us perfect and holy in his sight. May the riches of his glory abound in us. May he instruct us with the word of truth, inform us with the gospel of salvation, and enrich us with his love; through Christ our Lord. Amen. — From the Gelasian Sacramentary