What does Advent have to do with Apocalypse?

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John Martin Last Judgement Apocalyptic imagery

The Last Judgement by John Martin (Tate Britain via Picryl.com)

A perceptive liturgical question! For most of us, Advent is our happy place. We think of it as the prequel to Christmas, an elongated season of joy and warm human feeling toward people of good will. But Advent is not to be confused with Christmas cheer from the perspective of the church calendar, nor from the view of the solar calendar. December is literally a dark time, full of long nights and end-of-year regrets for many. What we have done or failed to do is scrawled in the dust of the eleven months behind us.

Advent was conceived in a cultural context where the promise of the sun's return with the winter solstice was still devoutly anticipated and celebrated. A tinge of anxiety invaded that waiting space. Longing for the light—well before the dream of electricity—was bigger than some of us can imagine. All of which fit in nicely with the construction of a church season that celebrates the return of Christ our Light. "Return" is the operative word here. Just as the sun comes back around at solstice time, Christians anticipate that Jesus Christ will come again.

Most of us aren't thinking about the Second Coming, the End of the World, Last Judgment, or Apocalypse Now as we decorate O Tannenbaum, admittedly. "The Last Things," as this set of ideas is theologically catalogued, is not what we're consciously waiting and longing for during December. When we set up the empty crèche in our parishes, we anticipate the arrival of a little baby in the straw, not the dissolution of all things. But when you think about it, isn't one the same as the other?

The Incarnation is the shattering belief that the eternal God entered the realm of time as one of us. This unprecedented event does dissolve business as usual in human history. It opens a door on one side of reality, just as the Resurrection leaves one open on the other side. Heaven—which is the realm that apocalyptic or hidden writing is most concerned with—has just stepped into time and made it possible for us to anticipate stepping beyond it ourselves. When we read the Book of Revelation, or Daniel, or gospel passages with apocalyptic themes, we awaken to the game-changing reality of our faith.

This is why the first two weeks of Advent each year are given over to Apocalypse. It really is the end of the world as we know it!

Books: A Time of Fulfillment: Spiritual Reflections for Advent and Christmas by Anselm Grün, OSB ( Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2013); Come, Lord Jesus: A Study of Revelation by Mark Braaten (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007) 

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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