by Nathan LeRud
Bad news first: Advent isn’t really about cute calendars and chocolate.
For thousands of years, people of faith have used this season not to prepare homes and hearts for the joyful celebration of Christmas (that came later) but, originally, to get ready for the end of the world. Before it was about evergreens and candy canes, Advent was about a kind of Biblical disaster preparedness.
The first Christians believed that the end of the world was coming tomorrow. They lived their lives in that expectation – it caused them to renounce familial relationships and embrace radical new forms of community, intimacy and property rights. Perhaps they were slightly-unhinged people living in severely-unhinged times – in any event, the stuff they wrote down (we call it the New Testament) reflects that frantic and frenetic breathlessness. The apocalypse was a lived reality for these ones; they believed they were living through it.
Many of us are starting to wonder if these crazy ancestors of ours were onto something. Maybe it always feels like the end of the world – it certainly feels like it these days. With sea levels rising, wildfires burning, politicians bloviating, and social media catastrophizing, many of us feel like we’re living our lives in a state of constant on-edge. We trigger easily. We blow up at one another over the slightest provocation. Family dinner tables have become battlefields and community spaces have become war zones.
Is this what the end of the world is supposed to feel like? Some scholars and writers suggest that it is: that the times we’re living through actually do look like a radical re-structuring of social and political norms, and that things are going to get worse before they start getting better.
For the next four weeks, I invite you to take a step back from the precipice of anxiety and turn down the volume on your frantic hamster-wheel mind. Turn off your phone for a few minutes, if that helps. Rather than retreating into “survival mode” I invite you to learn with me how to be human beings again: humane beings, who are able to care deeply, love fully, and embrace both the tragedy and the silly joyfulness of this human adventure.
This is the stuff Christianity was designed for. Won’t you explore it with me?
Dean LeRud will be preaching a four-week sermon series (find sermons here) on this theme: “how to survive the end of the world.” As the world seems to fall apart around us, I will explore the strategies and practices – and heck, the tricks and work-arounds – that the Christian tradition offers to deepen our relationship with ourselves, our bodies, our neighbors, and our God. Advent is actually designed for this, and anything less is just window-dressing.
The Very Rev. Nathan LeRud is Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, OR