Advent and Apocalypse

I have been writing and announcing Advent for a few weeks now. I’ve described the primary way the church imagines the season is through the lens of hopeful expectation. Until Sunday, I had refrained from discussing the church’s other focus. That perhaps this season is less about retelling the story of Jesus’s first coming and more about Jesus’s second coming. That the injunctions to prepare and anticipate are less about preparing for a holiday with egg nog and gift-giving, but preparing for Jesus’s triumphal return.

We don’t talk about the apocalypse in Episcopal churches. Not usually, anyway. We find our voices drowned out by those that measure each minute and scour every scripture in the canon to find signs for the moment of its occurrence. Or we read books like Left Behind and imagine that at a future date the world is pretty much going to be destroyed. And then when we do open our scripture, we are worried that these crazy ideas may actually be in there.

On Sunday, we were greeted with a great New Year’s surprise. We kicked off Year C in the lectionary: the year in which the gospel focuses on the evangelist we know as Luke. And right out of the gates? Jesus talks about the apocalypse. Welcome to church, now let’s talk about the end of the world!

Here’s the thing. We have the wrong impression of apocalypse. Over the next three weeks, I’ll be talking about what we mean by “apocalypse” and what makes Advent a time to talk about it. I’ll begin by allowing the author David Dark to define apocalypse:

We apparently have the word “apocalypse” all wrong. In its root meaning, it’s not about destruction or fortune-telling; it’s about revealing. It’s what James Joyce calls an epiphany—the moment you realize that all your so-called love for the young lady, all your professions, all your dreams, and all your efforts to get her to notice you were the exercise of an unkind and obsessive vanity. It wasn’t about her at all. It was all about you. The real world, within which you’ve lived and moved and had your being, has unveiled itself. It’s starting to come to you. You aren’t who you made yourself out to be. An apocalypse has just occurred, or a revelation, if you prefer.

As Dark describes, the word “apocalypse” simply means ‘revelation’ or ‘unveiling’. When we talk about it in relationship to GOD’s relationship to the world we are speaking of a moment in which GOD ‘reveals’ the Kingdom to us. And much of the literature we call “apocalyptic” describe the moment of that revealing to everyone.

Dark also raises the important notion for the faithful that what we mean by apocalypse happens constantly to individuals. GOD’s dream is being revealed to each of us in different moments of revelation. That is fully apocalyptic just as the great reveal in which the world will be reconciled is apocalyptic.

As I preached on Sunday, how we receive that revealing, or more precisely, how we hear Jesus’s call to prepare for that revealing, is where we are at this week. There is a tone in Luke’s depiction of Jesus that seems to tell us two things about that moment: 1) we aren’t going to really understand what is happening, but 2) we are to embrace what it is that GOD is revealing.

Next week we will discuss why apocalyptic literature is often so frightening. This week, let us dwell instead on the very notion of a moment in which GOD’s dream for us will be revealed to us and that we may be so prepared for it that we might stand up in the midst of chaos.

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