I’m told I break a cardinal rule of writing. My primary audience is me – for my own therapy. None more so than this. I hope my own therapy may be encouragement for some of you, too.
I spent this morning talking with a group about Advent. This season may be the most confused and neglected of all in the church’s year. It stands in tension with so much else happening in our culture, in our homes, and often even in our worship.
Advent is about preparation… expectant waiting…
Advent reminds us of Israel’s long wait for a promised Messiah.
I think we rarely understand their longing. This was a nation of people who were in and out of slavery and usually the “little guy” caught between world powers when they were free. I suspect a song like “My Deliverer is Coming” would have held a different, deeper meaning for a harassed and helpless people than it often does for me.
Advent is supposed to reflect our same waiting today. All is not right in this broken world, so we wait for a coming deliverer.
But we’re just not very good at waiting. And as a free people in a free, wealthy, powerful nation, we don’t feel much need for somber preparation. We prefer celebration.
We want Christmas, not Advent. The radio stations know it. The mall knows it. Most of our churches know it. We want jubilee – joyful and triumphant - Gloria in excelsis Deo! And the somber, stripped-down expectancy of Advent just doesn’t seem to fit.
And then this afternoon, as I headed to pick up my kindergartner from school, I heard the gut-wrenching news about senseless shootings in a kindergarten room in Connecticut.
My Facebook and Twitter feeds were filled with “Come, Lord Jesus” and “Kyrie Eleison” (Lord, have mercy) along with posts about anger, confusion, and sadness. There were even posts from people taking comfort in the thought of a final judgment and hell.
Instantly, a tragedy in Connecticut has plunged us into Advent, even when so many of us just wanted Christmas.
Though we want to sing “peace on earth and mercy mild,” another tragedy reminds us that we are in many ways yet a captive people longing for freedom.
We are not captive to any oppressing foreign nation, and we give thanks. We are not captive to sin – neither to its guilt nor to its power over us. Praise God! But we find ourselves still captives in a fallen and broken world.
We now go into movie theaters and send our children to school with the fear of this world’s devils. And we feel mostly powerless and confused. Who will save us from this wicked world?
And then this afternoon I was attempting to finish a sermon on Revelation 20. The first two verses go like this:
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
The book of Revelation was written to a group of early Christians who were already undergoing persecution. The message of the book wasn’t all encouraging, either. Expect the persecution to intensify, it warned. The wickedness of the world has not yet reached its full measure.
But the message was also this: God still holds the keys. That ancient serpent who leads the world astray will ultimately be bound and cast into the lake of fire. Our deliverer is coming.
Making a direct reference to Revelation 20, Martin Luther wrote this verse, which seems particularly appropriate today:
And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
Luther concludes the song with “the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever.”
On a day when so many innocent children were killed, we are left the tragic reminder that our world is filled with devils. As a Christian, what I cling to today is the assurance that God will triumph, though today’s outlook is so bleak.
Revelation 20 goes on to point to a final judgment – of both the wicked and the righteous. While our enlightened world usually doesn’t like talk of judgment and damnation, on days like today, many of us are reminded why it makes sense to believe in a God who is both loving and just. Revelation 20 tells us that today does not have the last word – neither for the murderer nor for his victims. Praise God!
On a day like today, we’re reminded why we still need Advent. We pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Bring justice to a wicked world. Bring mercy to a hurting world.