Be warned: today’s Advent devotion includes some profanity. 

First, an explanation: Advent is a season that is traditionally associated with the biblical genre of apocalypticism.  Apocalypticism (or “apocalyptic” or “apocalypse”) is a genre of literature found throughout Scripture – in books like Daniel, Jude, and Revelation.  Apocalyptic literature emerges from groups that are suffering and focuses on the promise that God will save us.  In other words, apocalyptic literature starts with a recognition of what’s wrong with the world.  For the suffering people who wrote books like Daniel and Revelation, that includes naming all the ways that they are suffering.  But, that’s not the end of the story.  After naming what’s wrong with the world, apocalyptic literature shifts its focus from this world’s problems to God’s promise to fix those problems.  In short, apocalypticism says “things are bad now, but they won’t be bad forever.  God is going to step into the world to save us.”  

Advent is associated with apocalypticism because Advent is a time when we prepare ourselves to celebrate the most important story of God stepping into our world to save us – the story of the birth of Jesus.  In Jesus Christ, God responds to our desperate need for help by entering into our world and becoming one of us.  Each year, we begin Advent by taking time to pay attention for the brokenness around us – we look at the world and remember why we need Jesus.  When we pray, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” we are praying for God to do it yet again – to step into our world and heal our hurts, put an end to the violence, set us free from suffering, overcome our despair with hope. 

All of which is to say that apocalypticism – and the season of Advent – is an odd mix of lament and hope.  Advent is honest about what’s wrong with the world but also trusts that God is doing something about it – that, in the end, God will conquer evil with goodness and replace hatred with love.  It’s sometimes hard to capture that sense – the balance of longing for something better and trust that, in the end, God will win.  Advent is about a hope that only makes sense if the God who we believe in is real – because the only way for the darkness to be defeated is by the light of God’s love. 

Sometimes, when I’m trying to explain this odd mixture of longing and hope that defines Advent, I refer people to a song by Chance the Rapper.  Chance is a brilliant artist – he’s not a Christian musician, but many of his songs are deeply influenced by Christian themes. He is a rapper, but many of his songs are also heavily influenced by Gospel and other black church musical traditions. In the fall of 2017, in the midst of a cultural conversation about violence against black folks, a politician referred to certain protests against racist violence as “people complaining about first world problems.”  This song, titled “First World Problems,” is, in part, a response to that comment.  The song touches on a variety themes – some personal to the artist, and some wide-ranging society-wide issues of justice.  Also, it includes some “adult language” – again, Chance is not a “Christian rapper,” even though he is a rapper who is also a Christian – so, be aware of that before you watch it. (None of it is terrible, but I just don’t want to surprise you. It was performed on Stephen Colbert’s late night show, so what you hear is no worse than what you’d hear on late night TV.)  

But, here’s why it’s worth listening to it.  First, the music itself (and the visuals that accompany it in this video) do a great job of capturing the emotional sense of apocalypticism and Advent – lament and longing moving towards hope.  The background starts blue and dark, moves to orange (implying fire and judgment?) and ends with an almost blinding brightness (representing God’s unimaginable hope lighting up our lives).  Moreover, the words of the song do a great job of capturing the countercultural hope that Christians embrace during this season.  The chorus does this particularly well: 

The day is on its way, it couldn’t wait no more 

Here it comes, Ready or not, Ready or not 

The day is on its way, it couldn’t wait no more 

Here it comes 

And these words, from the final verse, do a great job of capturing the spirit of apocalypticism and Advent: 

I hear the seams snapping, and I’m the team captain 

No more knee slapping or shoe shining or shoe signing 

‘Til the dream happens, I’m just gonna keep rapping 

And y’all just keep clapping and keep acting like 

Flint got clean water and y’all don’t got teen daughters 

And black friends and gay cousins, y’all just gonna say nothing – 

Know that the day’s coming, knees bowed, tongues confessing 

The last ones getting first dibs on blessings  

In these lines we see a vision of the world’s injustice breaking down (“I see the seams snapping”) and a reminder of things in this world that need to be fixed (lack of access to clean water, discrimination against women, black people, LGBTQIA+ folks, etc.), and then a promise (that is taken from biblical passages like Philippians 2:1-11, Matthew 20:16, and Matthew 25:31-46) that someday, Christ will be recognized as king, and that in Christ’s coming kingdom, all this suffering will come to an end – and those who suffer now will find themselves blessed. 

It’s hard to explain – but you can feel it when you listen.  So, take a moment to listen, and may we trust that these words are true.  The day is on the way – it cannot wait – when God’s way of love will triumph over the world’s hate.  In the end, the last shall be first, and God will wipe every tear from every eye.  That’s our hope.  That’s the promise of Advent.  It’s dark now, but the light is coming.  Thanks be to God. 

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Advent ’23 Entries

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