Maybe Advent should culminate with a Mummers Parade. Maybe we should reorient the whole season to focus on how crazy it all is and stop cleaning things up. Prophets having visions, John the Baptist in animal skins, Jesus in a manger, foreigners with gifts, baby slaughter, angels, Holy Family displacement and immigration — it is much wilder than a family dinner with grandma and all that exquisitely pretty music, don’t you think?
Last night I began with convincing people that the prophets of the Old Testament could be considered “fools” — the kind Paul recommends to us when he says: “It seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:9-10).
Historians dispute some of this, but Shakespeare popularized the idea that part of a king’s entourage in Europe’s included a fool, or a jester (who said things in jest). He could say things in jest because he was a fool. Sometimes the fool had an actual disability, a natural fool. And sometimes he was a licensed fool, a person who had license to say things back to the king or queen that others could not say. For instance, when the French king Philippe VI experienced a great defeat at sea in 1340 his “fool” told him the English sailors “don’t even have the guts to jump into the water like our brave French.” We preserved the memory of these people in our deck of cards (and Batman movies) with the joker.
We also preserve the function of putting all the foolishness on someone or letting all the foolishness out in some way so we don’t have to bear it ourselves. For instance, Philadelphia provides the world with the best Mummers Parade ever. The following video will tell you all about it in the first 5-10 minutes. The government tried to eradicate the racism from the Mummers Parade in the 60’s, with some success. They keep trying to eradicate its spirit with super fancy costumes, but the comic brigades preserve the weirdness and the commentary. It is good foolery.
The best preservation of “the fool” is left to the comedians. I think the best of them is Jon Stewart. He has become the conscience of the ruling class — he is certainly among the one-percent, himself. Fox News is the 50’s; Jon Stewart is the 60’s; the rest of us are amused. But there is the function, however turned into media fodder to feed the subscribers and ignored, that manages to let the truth be told. Here is Stewart, for instance, on Ferguson — mostly talking back to his rival talking heads, but telling truths like only he can.
Many have pointed out that Jesus is the ultimate jester. His whole work is a riddle the rulers cannot solve, unless, of course, they bend their knee to their Ruler. So Paul recommends that we all follow Jesus and learn to appreciate being a conundrum — at least making people wonder what is going on because of what we say and do. If the rulers and the general populace they dominate don’t object to our foolishness, we may not be following Jesus at all! So let’s keep protesting the commodification of our holiday, affirm the fools that keep sticking it to the man, and focus Advent where it belongs: as a celebration of the upside-down kingdom coming and planting itself as our right-side up redemption.