Patty Kirk, John Brown University’s resident writer and professor of English and creative writing, heralds in the Christmas season with her book, “The Gospel of Christmas: Reflections for Advent.”
The short collection of essays recalls Kirk’s Catholic youth, her loss of Catholic faith during adolescence and her journey to faith in Christianity. Kirk recollects what she and other Christians should strive and long for during Advent: recognition of the hope and joy Jesus Christ’s birth brings.
Due to Kirk’s experiences as a JBU professor, she is now an etymological expert on Christmas words: “manger” means trough, a common feature at Kirk’s farm home in Westville, Oklahoma. The Christmas story is lost on her students, often removed from the pastoral setting common to Kirk. “You have to wheedle and scheme and feed them sweet feed to take them beyond their habitual classroom expectations, beyond words and ideas they’re sure they already know to the real meanings hidden, like newborn bunnies in wads of hay their mothers have secreted in their tangled warrens beneath the pasture,” Kirk writes.
The students in her Gateway class, “Writing From Faith,” didn’t understand that Jesus’ birth receptacle was a trough; the word manger obscures the birth from realities forgotten in modern life. Kirk illuminates the term beyond the average student’s “syllabi and study guides and PowerPoint outlines.”
As families worldwide pack their homes with presents, Kirk unpacks God’s longing for us and our longing for Him—opting for carols more “theologically correct” than “jolly.” Kirk ponders those demurer songs and her Catholic upbringing, saying, “I’m unhappy about singing about the Crucifixion.”
“Why not about the Messiah who we’re supposed to look forward to?” Kirk asks. “The Crucifixion is a sad thing. The Angel says the coming of Jesus is good news and great joy. There is no mention of the Crucifixion. In my opinion, it’s creepy and twisted in Christ’s celebration.”
Kirk’s book emphasizes the hope in the coming of Christ rather than His death—hope that Christians should have when considering Christmas. Instead, Christians often focus on the festivities, the gifts and the food. Jesus’ birth, rather, should inspire longing as Christians await His return. The annual Advent chapel service at JBU expresses this waiting for the coming Christ, and the joy that it brings. Kirk enthuses the event: “Heaven is often described as a place where we’re going to sing. I look forward to it because everybody gets to sing together. Even non-believers are singing songs that everybody knows the words to. The songs that are about Jesus.”
“First Snow,” a chapter Kirk dedicates to the initial fall of the fluffy white wonder, links Advent snow with “a sense of rebirth, renewal.” Through the approach and exit of Advent, Kirk feels a sense of rebirth in preparation for next year. She sees Advent as a chance to recognize that Jesus experienced the same suffering and pain mankind also feels. Through this, she observes that God’s love shines with an extra special intensity during the Christmas season.