How do I wait in the face of horror?
Advent is all about waiting for deliverance. And that’s a hard thing to do. Honestly, I think the issue that we face is that we aren’t that enthusiastic for the future because we think it’ll be more of the same. The other side of that is that our present isn’t bad enough for us to have clamoring for what’s next. This is going to sound so negative, but we are just living our mediocre lives with not much hope of them getting better, and not much reason for them to. Everything’s gonna be the same and that’s kind of how it all works.
I think that this is in part because the future is bleak and so we normalize our present circumstances. We actually live in an intense time and place, but we can’t bear the existential dilemmas we face, so we just think of it all as business-as-usual. The U.N. just told us how bleak the future of the earth is, a quarter of a million people will lose food stamps, and it looks like Trump got his wall without actually getting a wall.
These problems are too big and our solution is too small. The sea is too big and the boat is too small. Some of us are so overwhelmed by the evil around us that we can’t bear to witness it at all—or we just numb ourselves to it. If you are numb to thought, you won’t feel the pain in your waiting, or the joy in your deliverance. And that’s kind of what I’m getting at.
These global and national tragedies are very real but they are so much bigger than us that it’s hard to see ourselves in them. And so that makes imagining our deliverance even harder. We see cosmic horror around us and we need cosmic faith to get through it.
So the problem we face is: we lack the faith to imagine a future where all of the horror that surrounds us is gone, and we don’t have the endurance to feel our own discomfort, so we don’t have much expectation for our deliverance. Our lives are good enough at best, probably marginal in general. And that’s how the story goes.
We don’t have the enthusiasm of a child with new eyes to see the world around her in excitement and joy. In fact, we see the horror around us and we despair. We don’t know what to do. If we aren’t careful, we’ll just be old and cynical. But we have our own advents to wait in, and we also have the promise of deliverance.
You can face the horror because deliverance awaits you
Advent isn’t just about remembering the past birth of Jesus, but the coming deliverance.
Fleming Rutledge tells us that “The Christian community lives in Advent all the time. It can well be called the Time Between, because the people of God live in the time between the first coming of Christ, incognito in the stable in Bethlehem, and his second coming, in glory, to judge the living and the dead.”
“Advent contains within itself the crucial balance of the now and the not-yet that our faith requires.” We’re waiting for deliverance this season.
But we have our own Advents to wait in as well. And more importantly, Jesus is actually returning. We don’t talk about this much, and I think that’s because we’ve individualized our faith. “The coming of Jesus into the individual heart was preached and taught as the substitute for the second coming.” Personal salvation undoes cosmic eschatological hope because it centers the individual as the locus of God’s liberation instead of the whole world.
Honestly, I think charismatic eschatological speculation kinda dampened our moods about the Second Coming. Some of the specific interpretation of Revelation’s apparent allegory about a present circumstance turned the hope of the second coming into a comic book. I won’t link to the movies and the book series that was popular in the 1990s, but it definitely contributed to the problem of people dismissing the idea of a corporeal second coming. For my part, if Jesus isn’t returning, I don’t want to follow him. If Jesus isn’t returning, the New Testament is, at best, a nice self-help guide (and not even the best one). It’s bullshit if Jesus doesn’t return.
Honestly, I rely on the hope of my deliverance and I wait for it this Advent season. And the reason I can face all the evil in the world (Trump, climate change, war, the opioid crisis) is because I know God will deliver us ultimately. The reason I can fight against all the evil is because when I do that I know that I am cooperating with God. God’s sovereignty in Jesus’ literal second coming motivates me to act now. And beyond just the cosmic and global horror around me.
Jesus, in his second coming, is reconciling the whole world unto himself. That’s the promise we’re waiting for in Advent.
That’s why I can face my own trials. You are in your own trials right now. How are we waiting in this world of present doom in hope of the promise to come? What are we doing?
We are in a war as we wait, a war against evil. Even though liberation and deliverance will come, we are fighting the fight now as we wait. We are doing the things that don’t feel natural to us, we are turning a corner, we are renewing our investments to God and to each other. We will not be in despair, thinking that we and the world will never change. God is coming. We await our liberation and actively fight against that which oppresses us now.
It’s that moment when you don’t blow your lid at your roommate or spouse, and instead decide to treat them with love you don’t think they deserve. It’s when you decide to stick it out in your commitments, even though it’s easier to run. It’s when you decide to be gentle to your kids, even when they forever anticipate their birthdays. It’s the patience of every teacher and social worker and cell leader. It’s my decision to take it easy on myself, even though I haven’t mastered every discipline I wish to—as I was telling my spiritual director this week. It’s my decision to accept God’s love and acceptance of me, even though I never quite get it. That’s the revolution.
Those are the fights we are fighting. In our waiting, we are choosing to be someone and something else. We are prophesying the liberation that awaits the world in our actions now.
Have faith like a child, believe in what appears to be unbelievable
We live in a present evil age, as Paul talks about in Galatians 1. We see the horror around us. The only way through it is God’s intervention. It is what the prophets of Advent are announcing. It is that baby savior that we await; the coming of Jesus Christ. The end isn’t here, but it’s coming, and we wait it.
I know this is hard to stomach. I know that you know that depth of your own despair and depravity, even though we try to numb it. I know that the promise of hope before us is hard to imagine; it’s hard to believe in, it’s hard to have faith in.
I want to assure you that you can be that hope for so many people. And I want you to believe it. It sounds ridiculous, but there’s a reason Jesus tells us to have faith like a child. The children get it. The children know the hope that could come. They still see the world in the way that God does! I really think that. I think that’s why you have calls for faith, belief, and hope in the mysterious, even in godless Christmas movies about Santa.
You can feel the depth of your depravity and keep imagining hope for the future because Jesus will deliver us.