The liturgically astute (read: worship nerds in mainline, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions) know that Advent is the beginning of the liturgical calendar. The year ends with Christ the King Sunday the week before. Truth be told, Advent signals much more than an annual turn.
Advent reveals the end of all things and a whole new world.
Advent is an apocalyptic time. No, not The Walking Dead, The Road, The Day After Tomorrow, or The Day the Earth Stood Still kind of apocalypse. The origins of the words apocalypse come from the Greek ἀποκάλυψις, or apocalypsis, a word that means something like revealing or unveiling. Theologically, Advent is about the unveiling of God's incarnation in Jesus. Advent is about the revealing of God's free grace in and through the Messiah of Israel.
This revelation, though, is not impotent, for the advent of the Lord also signals the end of the old world. It is not cataclysmic in the way that movies portray, but the apocalypse of advent is a radical departure from the old world. The injustice bred by sin no longer will rule, but rather God's final conquering of sin breeds a whole new world built upon justice and peace.
Of course, we know all too well that the vestiges of sin remain in our own lives. Yet, the return of Advent is the constant reminder that God has promised to reconcile all things through Jesus Christ. God is actively working in these apocalyptic times, bringing about the Kingdom of God and putting to rest the powers of prejudice and discrimination, of oppression and death. The Advent apocalypse is ultimately about light and life - the incarnate and resurrected life of Jesus, the restored life of humanity, and the perfected life of all creation.
We are the people who lived in a deep darkness and yet have seen a great light in Jesus. Each Advent, this light reminds us that God has not abandoned us, but is at work in and through us for the redemption of all creation. Advent signals the end of all things and a whole new world, restored to abundant life.
Now that's something worth unveiling.
In conversation with a few pastors recently, we spoke about Jesus' claim that his "yoke is easy" and "burden is light." As we meditated on the passage, one pastor noted that, as she heard the verses over and again, she imagined a light burden not as a near-weightless load, but rather as a cargo of light.
What an incredible reflection! While Jesus' original imagery definitely points toward the lessening of the weight we must carry, there's something absolutely right about casting this in the direction of our responsibility to bear light to the world, namely, the light of Christ.
1 Thessalonians reminds us of that call as Paul refers to Christians as "children of light." We are those who live in a world enlightened by the incarnation of Christ, by the eternal presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet, much of our culture remains bound in the darkness.
Now, this imagery of darkness seems like a condemnation of evil, but more fairly it is an admission that our culture lives without the light of Christ. Many of our neighbors live without seeing the world through the Son of Righteousness. When we talk about the darkness, we must avoid the propensity to condemn those who still live there, because that is not the point Paul brings forth. His emphasis is on the children of the light, and the responsibility they have - that we have - to live in the light, to carry that light into the darkness, to live on fire with the light of God.
To be children of light is not a permission to condemn the darkness, but rather a commission to live in the midst of it, shining bright the light of our God, the Creator who gave us this light with the purpose of brightening all creation with the presence of Jesus Christ. As children of light, we carry the genes, the impression, the imbued presence of God, who is the Light, wherever we go.
Don't take on the yoke of judgement, which is too heavy for us all. Rather, live the light, that burden which we are called to carry into the world for the sake of Christ Jesus.
Hold on to your pants, folks. This is a long one.
I recently had a conversation with a group of Christians about the nature of Biblical and liturgical translation. As we talked, many within the group expressed a preference for translations that they learned as a child, as well as skepticism for the supposed need for change.
I share these sentiments. I prefer the Lutheran version of the Lord's Prayer common in the 1990's much more than the more recent version published in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal. The same is true for the Apostles' Creed. The congregation I grew up in tended to use the NIV translation of the Bible, so even though I know the NRSV is more respected by experts, the NIV sounds more like my childhood. So, I prefer it.
My skepticism, when I let it rule me, arises in large part from our society's commitment to consumer capitalism. In short, aren't we just making changes to sell more song books, prayer books, and holy books?
But, ultimately, we must remember that the linguistic choices scholars make about scriptural translations and the prayer language of the church is not about our preferences. And it shouldn't be.
Because the vocation of linguistic scholars and translators is to present to the current culture a faithful translation, one that faithfully carries the intended content and yet communicates in a form comprehendible by the surrounding society.
Imagine someone today asking a high schooler to go steady or attend a sock hop. While there's nothing inherently wrong with these terms - in fact, there's nothing wrong at all with them - they have simply fallen out of common usage. Nowadays, if you want to exclusively date somebody, you ask them to "go out with" you (which admittedly makes less sense than the older term). Rather than a sock hop, school dances are now most often just referred to as "dances" (which is much simpler, though less witty). To communicate with this generation of people, we need to use language that makes sense to them, regardless of our personal preference.
This is paramount in terms of the Gospel. If we want people within the present age to engage with God's Word, we must ensure that we present God's Word in a way that speaks a comprehensible language. If we want people unfamiliar with church to comprehend what's happening in worship, we must use phrases that have meaning in their context.
Now, this doesn't mean that our preferences don't matter. When we read scripture ourselves or pray on our own, we get to make choices that help us to speak a language that connects our faith with God. That means, on my own time, I get to pray "Thy Kingdom come," and "He descended into Hell."
Nor does this mean that we're abandoning Christian language or emphases. Language helps to shape the world, so we must use care as we translate and be certain that we faithfully present the content of our faith. Part of the mission of the church is to use the various ways with which we communicate to faithfully communicate the one Word that makes sense.
But our mission must, at all times, guide our decisions about our life together, including things like how we shape our worship . If our mission is to connect people to Jesus, then we must help foster an encounter between God and people. This includes how we shape our space, what kind of music we use, and yes, what language we employ.
Why should our mission shape our decisions as a church? Why should we be willing to give up our comfortability in language and song?
Because God desires abundant life for all people, not just the insiders. We must constantly work alongside Christ, whose mission is to reconcile all things to Himself, something he began when he took on our bodies, our cultures, and yes, our language. That's the reality of incarnation. It is a decision driven by God's mission to bring creation back into peace with our Creator.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.