Apocalyptic imagery in the Bible is a statement of showing the contrast between God’s way of justice, peace, and flourishing and the realities of human violence and suffering.
Each year, the First Sunday of Advent starts the church’s liturgical calendar, and our countdown to Christmas, with a set of haunting, apocolyptic readings. Preachers and educators might be tempted to skip the prophet’s warnings and Jesus’ eerie talk of the end of time for a more cheery theme. After all, this is time to be home eating pie, children laughing, candles and sweet, fat baby Jesus. But if we pass over the apocalyptic readings and or dodge the hard prophetic witness, we may miss God’s invitation to understand the ethical impact of Christmas.
The Apocalypse and Christmas
Apocalyptic imagery in the Bible is a statement of showing the contrast between God’s way of justice, peace, and flourishing and the realities of human violence and suffering. It is both a judgment on our failure to love one another well and a holy vision for how we might live into God’s dream. The readings for the First Sunday of Advent for Year A offer us an inspirational picture of turning war machines into gardening tools (Isaiah 2:4), the judgment of God that brings love and peace (Psalm 122), the light of God illuminating how we should live together (Romans 13:12), and Jesus’ encouragement to pay attention for his coming in the midst of uncertain times (Matthew 24:44).
We don’t call the Peace of God into being by simply talking about it. War and peace, judgment and redemption, living into community as a foretaste of the Kingdom…these are daily parts of our human life. When we avoid talking about them in church, we communicate that the good news of Jesus’ birth is too flimsy or precious to speak to our struggles. Sure, there is a sweetness and beauty to the story of Jesus’ birth, but it is sweetness that is strong enough to resist hate and it is beauty that transforms.
Honoring the Advent Apocalypse
To better engage what the Incarnation means to in the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom, ask these questions as you prepare sermons, curriculum, or facilitation.
- What harmful things need to be transformed in your life or community?
- Is there an old hurt, division around a social issue, grief?
- Where do you need clarity on common life?
- Are there shared values and a commitment to kindness, prayer, service, and formation?
- How can you keep watch for Jesus in hte middle of struggle, uncertainty, and monontony?
- What are the seasonal events in your community that point you to the Incarnation? When can you make room for the Advent devotions of prayer, reflection and acknowledging the Holy Spirit?
Don’t hesitate to bring these questions to your community as well. These biblical themes may be a great starting poitn for community service and social action during the Christmas season. You might be surprised to find that adults are relieved to find a safe space to explore these questions in the midst of a season that can force cheerfulness, while raising stress. You might hear new truth-telling from your young people. You might find chilren ready to cast a clear, even prophetic, vision for how we ought to treat one another.
This Advent, take time to wrestle with the hard, the dark, the uncertain, and see the light of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel – God with us , shine all the brighter.
The Rev. Claire Brown is an Episcopal priest, writer, partner, and mama living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Claire is the co-author of Keep Watch with Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers, a diverse collaboration of stories, reflections, prayers, and spiritual practices to sustain and challenge the faith of those who work for justice and peace. She blogs at revclairebrown.com about parenthood, embodiment, theology, and the church.