Theology

An Apocalyptic Advent

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This year, I’m dreaming of an apocalyptic Advent. I need fresh imagination for what God is doing in the waiting and hoping everyone keeps talking about, and I think it’s apocalyptic.

That’s what Advent is, after all – the church’s choice to participate in the arrival, and then proleptic unfolding, of that Great Cataclysm: the Incarnation of the Son of God. In that Great Cataclysm, the Son unveiled God and made him known – at once answering, disrupting, and transforming the aching hope for deliverance. Yes, apocalyptic.

Advent doesn’t really do much unless it’s apocalyptic. If Advent isn’t apocalyptic, then nothing ever changes. Advent is like the uncle who circles around once a year and stumbles into our living room. The routine feels a bit different from normal, but mostly predictable. It’s easy to put things back together like they were before, after he leaves.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel,

and ransom captive Israel,

that mourns in lonely exile here

until the Son of God appear…and then does what, exactly?

What kind of arrival are we waiting for?

We need an Apocalyptic Advent because the content of our hope is renewal, and genuine renewal in Christ comes on the other side of everything being shaken loose and laid bare. We need a revelation that unveils the arrival of something new while also unveiling everything that has been concealed on the ground and in our lives.

This means that, in an apocalyptic Advent, we are waiting and watching for the end of the world. Our hope is grounded in the promise that the End is actually a Beginning that makes room for genuine renewal.

Our hope is grounded in the promise that the End is actually a Beginning. Click To Tweet

This is why the church has historically reserved a few readings from Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, the “Little Apocalypse,” during the Advent season (see Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21). The Little Apocalypse is the bit toward the end of Jesus’ ministry where he sounds like one of those crazy street preachers announcing God’s judgment and the end of the world.

The real punch to Jesus’ announcement is that God’s arrival will mean the destruction of the temple. The central sacred space around which all of life found meaning and orientation – the locus of God’s very presence – Jesus said is coming to an end. It’s all over.

For some first century Jews and followers of Jesus (but not all), nothing could be worse. If the Temple is destroyed, then that means the practices, habits, and patterns associated with the Temple (i.e. sacrifices) also must come to an end. And if that system comes to an end, then the centers of power and authority – the status quo from which the religious leadership and aristocracy most benefited – crumble too. This was exactly the opposite of what God’s restoration ought to look like.

The Advent Jesus announced was, in a manner of speaking, “earth shattering,” which doesn’t seem like the right context for renewal, but it actually is. Jesus told his disciples that, when everything hits the fan, most people would, to put it mildly, freak out. “But not so with you,” Jesus says to his disciples. “Instead, keep your head up and pay attention because this is actually your redemption crashing into the world.

God’s Advent in Christ brings the old ways of the world and of our status quo to an end, so that something radically different and new will take its place. We need Advent to be apocalyptic because we’re not prone, nor are we really able, to let things come crashing down with a glorious and terrifying thud. But God’s self-revelation always lays us bare (as the author of Hebrews says) in the ways we need most.

In one sense, the End has already come. Everything has changed. The heavens ripped open and God unveiled himself in Christ, who shines his light and exposes the darkness.

In one sense, the End has already come. Everything has changed. Click To Tweet

In another sense, however, the End is still unfolding, and we are waiting still. We are waiting and watching for how God’s arrival brings disruption and (a kind of) destruction to the structures and patterns that keep us from reordering ourselves around God’s kingdom in Christ.

In an apocalyptic Advent, waiting means there are some things we just don’t need to rebuild. So let’s put down those bricks and mortar and declare with hope, “The End has come and it has become our Beginning!”

Our hope is not just that things will be different. Our hope is that God’s kingdom is budding forth and sprouting amidst the destruction and rubble. This hope fixes our attention toward the end of things, even toward the end of our status quo, rather than their defense and preservation.

We do this because we trust that, when Jesus arrives, he disrupts, and he disrupts in order to transform.

When Jesus arrives, he disrupts, and he disrupts in order to transform. Click To Tweet

An apocalyptic Advent draws our attention to the rumble beneath our feet – to the shaking loose. When we feel the rumble, we don’t have to freak out. This is where the good stuff is – this is where the renewal comes.

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