Each year in Advent, these apocalyptic texts come to us and we preachers, or at least those who love the season, struggle to imbue them with the passion and urgency they deserve.
We pour through commentaries and try to add context and seek relevance.
If that can’t happen, we attempt to tie a rope around them, or at least keep them safely at bay, for they are disturbing and disruptive and unnerving. And we are rational and reasonable folk. Keep awake, for the one who is coming is the Lord. Sun darkens, stars fall, the elected are gathered, and fig trees become prophetic.
But this year, it is given. The urgency of the economy, the fear of war and terrorism, the warming and dying of the globe: all have entered these apocalyptic texts with a natural ease, like a fox who has made its home in the henhouse. We do not have to go far to see their urgency, we find them in our own homes, in our newspapers, and in our souls. Fear is near, and so are our credit cards. And so we, who are confused and stunned, pray like Isaiah, in all earnestness and repentance, that the heavens might open its blue hope and God might make God’s self known to the people.
Apocalypse is not as scary a word as we have made it. It simply means an unveiling, a disclosure. And if we are in the presence of God and God’s revelation as our texts tell us, we might be surprised by what we see.
We who wait, we who live by reason, we who bundle our children and bury our dead cannot see around any corners. We, on our own, have no prophetic powers. So we must lean into what we are given, and even that is only a promise.
Keep awake, our God tells us, and we must. For soon enough, Advent will peel back and the apocalypse for this season is this strange Christmas story. What is given, what is disclosed, is nothing more than a child. A child for whom the prophecy is exact, for whom the morning stars do open and the things grow heavy and the heavenly hosts sing. A child, who will reign from the throne of David, as the angel tells the maiden. A child who is great, the most high, the Son of God. A child who will lead us, whose flesh is ours, and whose promises are too. A child who comes with this cup of blessing to know our sin, who comes to raise us and all we love from death.
It is all there is. Moved by this simplicity, this unorthodox way, we, in our darkness and fear and uncertainty, discover this apocalypse. And beyond, beneath, within, we find hope, for this is our God. In this wide, whirling universe where angels beg shepherds to come, just to see, we discover an unnerving love, and there is no room in the stable for our rationales, nor our reasons. The Lord is here.