Advent 1, Year C
This morning’s gospel reading is hard. Jesus said that there would be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars. There would be distress among the nations, the roaring of the sea and the waves would confuse them, and people would faint from the fear and foreboding of what might happen. Even the powers of the heavens would be shaken.
The Bible Nerd in me wants to figure all that out. I want to know what he means when he talks about fear and foreboding. That seems like it might be important. And, is that so wrong… to want to understand?
Well, maybe. Prophecy is not allegory. It is poetry. In Latin, the word vates is used for both. So, it is wasted energy to try to say, “this means that “or “another thing means something else.” If Jesus were speaking in prose then we could just parse out the meaning and be pleased with ourselves. But, this is poetry, and poetry doesn’t work like that. Poetry requires imagination. Brian Zahand says that poetry is the magic carpet of prophetic imagination.
This particular prophetic speech is not just poetic, though, it is also apocalyptic. Nowadays we use apocalyptic to mean something dramatic, maybe the end of the world. But it really just means to reveal the truth, literally to unveil. So, we have here a poetic unveiling of what is to come.
And what is to come? Well, a new king is about to be born. We are going to think about that a lot in the next four weeks. Later, though, he will usher in his new kingdom by riding in on a donkey. Then he will assume his throne while nailed to a cross. It’s not just poetry, not just revelation, it’s revolution!
Revolution is not easy. It is, first of all, tearing down all the structures that have held things together, all that is familiar, and waiting for something else to emerge. It is essentially a hopeful act, eschewing the easy acceptance of the way things are. Political revolutions usually don’t work out too well. That is not what I am talking about. I am talking about a revolution of spirit.
This morning as Christians around the world walk into church we will do something revolutionary: Light a candle. In these dark times of chaos, one might even say roaring seas and distress among the nations, the act of lighting a candle in darkness requires hope. It says that we will not accept the darkness that threatens our souls, we will not be overwhelmed by the chaos of our lives, we will resist at all costs the demon forces of hopelessness.
Now we can ask a different kind of question. Instead of parsing all the mystery out of it, we can marvel at what this poem might say to our spirit. Does it encourage or frighten? What’s there to be scared of? Does it reveal something of ourselves, maybe a truth that we might not want to face, an unnamed fear, well-concealed failure, hopelessness, false piety? It could be anything, really.
Your prophetic task, because you are a prophet too, is to use your poetic and prophetic imagination to answer the questions that come to you. As Ordinary Time ends and the new church year begins, take up your own mantle of prophecy and discern what kind of poem you will write with your life this year.
Above all, Advent is a time of preparation. There is a lot in our lives and in the world that we can’t do anything about, but we can light a candle, we can allow the magic carpet of prophetic poetry take us to places we might not have visited before, and we can get ready to live the poetry of God.
Linda McMillan is getting ready!
Some Notes of Possible Interest.
Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma first introduced me to the idea of Revolution Of Spirit. She talks about it a lot in a book she did with Alan Clements. Her revolution in Burma is not going to well, but we might do better with ours.