March 28, 2020

“We sanitize what isn’t safe and therefore lose what is nutritious”

From The Weight of Advent
by Ian at Mockingbird

[T]he prophetic word of Advent authorizes us to tell the truth about the world. As Edgar pronounces in the final scene of King Lear, “The weight of this sad time we must obey/ Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” John the Baptizer exemplifies this ethos: he speaks his mind, giving voice to the silent grumblings of the lower class and of God alike. He is an inconvenient note ringing out in the wilderness, embarrassing to the priestly class from which he is descended. His importunity and refusal of bland niceness is what prepares the way of the Lord. This is the face of Advent: mourning in lonely exile, crying out, “O Lord, come quickly! Vanquish the Devil and all his works!”

But even this season, when it is remembered, is all too often hijacked and sterilized, sawn off to fit a Procrustean bed of niceness. The advent wreath, a relatively novel development in the history of the church, celebrates hope, faith, joy, and peace, whereas traditionally it commemorated the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. These things are the outcomes of our works; all our trials are participations in them. Advent is more than the time of preparation for Christmas: it is the post-Nativity time given to us to contemplate the end seeded in that beginning. We look back in order to look forward. For as sure as the Lord was born to a virgin in Bethlehem, he will return to judge and restore.

As with so many other things, we sanitize what isn’t safe and therefore lose what is nutritious. Is the traditional Advent safe? No, but it is good….

…The only genuinely effective apologetic available to Christian faith is its forthright speaking (παρρεσια) about the distress and affliction that characterizes our world and our species’ pathological inability to effect lasting change to heal it. Bolstering the historical veracity of Christianity’s claims is useful, as is philosophically demonstrating its systematic coherence, but none of these things are the Sun of righteousness by which light is shone into darkness. We must tell the truth that will reverberate in every human heart searching for consolation. Every other school of thought will try to paint the world as not as bad as it seems: Christianity alone will insist, Yes, it is this bad — and yet that is not the whole story.

Comments

  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    My comments are connected to today’s post but a little further afield.
    How can we sit and tap away more theological comments about how many angels sit on a pin etc when we are watching through half closed eyes the destruction of the inhabitable world which we so piously say we treasure.

    I know all the arguments exposed by our eminent commentators, been there, done that, saw the movie, read the comic book!!

    I ask that those of us Imonkers get busy and hastle those politicians in their neck of their woods to consider Climate Change as a real and very evident cause of the deteriation of our God of given world. We were charged to look after it. We are stuffing it up!!
    He throws up His hands in disgust!

    The last open count of Koala deaths from our latest bush fires down the coast of Eastern Australia is approximately 2000.
    No count is available for the many other species of wild life which make Australia a unique country.
    I could go on about the loss of cattle, sheep, pasture and homes and human lives lost in our current drought and bush fire season. We still have the rest of Summer with which to content.
    I beg all of you to attend to the present and future best possibilities to change the opinions of your current politicians who deny we are are in crisis.
    Put away your theological books, get your head out of your books and write to governments, protest, campaign and make a difference as was the original command.
    Save our planet. Its the only one we have.
    Susan

    • At the top levels of our own federal government here in the US is a dominant faction that will have nothing to do with even the idea that anthropogenic climate change is a real phenomenon. Fortunately, in more than a few places, local state and especially municipal governments are being proactive, but this is a crisis that demands national and international attention and action, as you know. For the present, our national leadership is run by those who believe that business is more important than anything else, and that an affluent and growing economy is the greatest of all goods, global climate crisis be damned.

      • Susan Dumbrell says

        Thank you Robert, I appreciate your insight.
        S

        • I’m saddened to say, however, that quite apart from our country’s leadership, I’m pretty certain that many, or perhaps most, average Americans would not be willing to voluntarily make any serious economic or lifestyle sacrifices for the sake of preventing further climate change. For instance, if the choice is between the climate and buying that next gas-guzzling automobile, or that next state of the art smartphone with all the non-biodegradable plastic required for its manufacture, I suspect the average American would prefer their short-term stuff above the long-term earth.

          • It’s how we are as human beings.

            • And there’s the sad truth. It’s like I now tell people: the Bible, at its most basic and stripped away of any spirituality, is a history lesson on trainwreck after trainwreck after trainwreck, all because of human nature.

              • Rampaging Chipmunk says

                And as such, my philosophy in this regard is very individualistic. Even if nothing can truly be done, at least one can vote based on one’s conscience, go vegan, and any other individual actions that can be done, but not for the reason of actually expecting change; more so just for one’s own conscience. So that when one dies and then when one stands before God, one can say to Him and oneself that at least they did the right thing despite the circumstances. That is the Honor of the Lost Cause.

      • I will admit that I am not optimistic about where this is headed. We would have to literally reconfigure our society and our economy from the ground up. And accepting tangible short term losses for gains only those who will be here after we’re dead will see is probably the hardest thing for human beings to do. And that’s not even figuring in the ideological (growth/capitalism uber alles) and theological (God’s gonna burn the world anyways, only saving souls matters) barriers to change.

        We are well and truly screwed.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        For the present, our national leadership is run by those who believe that business is more important than anything else, and that an affluent and growing economy is the greatest of all goods, global climate crisis be damned.

        While all the Christians cheer “AAAAAA-MENNNNN!!!!!”

    • Christiane says

      Thank you, Susan, for this comment. I’m heartbroken for those poor animals. My father saw Koala’s in Australia when he was there in the USN during the War working to clear mines. My father was a great one for conservation and for natural foods . . . he had a ‘compost heap’ that would have made the most ardent conservationist proud . . . he wasted nothing but used the nutrients to enrich the soils for his gardens.

      It gets harder to see what is happening. There is pressure to ‘keep silent’ rather than to confront the craziness, but time runs on and is running out, and we who are silent are complicit in the Earth’s destruction.

      Things are getting weird over here in the States: Rudy Giuliani is running around overseas consorting with criminals connected with the Russian Security Services and he is promoting their propaganda big time . . . . the President was on television yesterday making an announcement about toilets and sinks which caused people to wonder if he had lost it completely. . . . and today there is a hearing to decide on whether or not to impeach on what grounds and goodness knows what is happening next. Big thing also: two major Senators (Republican) are spouting Russian propaganda openly concerning Ukraine and this serves Russian interests big time. It’s getting to crisis level here, I’m afraid. People are falling for the propaganda from Russia even though our own intel has told them there is no evidence but that the conspiracy theories are coming out of Russian security services (Putin).

      I mourn for the little Koalas . . . I mourn for the suffering border children who have been taken from their parents and incarcerated and are recieiving sub-standard care. I want to be more hopeful in the face of all this crazy, Susan and I hope SOON we will see some sign of sanity returning to our land AND to our world.

      You are right: the Earth is now in danger. We must act soon. Or it will be too late for our children.
      Thanks again. Hope you are as well as can be, though I know you are distressed by what is happening. So are we all these days . . . pray for change, Susan. Take care . . . sending hug and love to all remaining Koala’s, may God protect them from harm.

      • Susan Dumbrell says

        I appreciate all the comments in reply to my initial comment.
        I ask, naively, when does the little man or woman, or small local environmental group, or Green political party’s voice get heard.
        Not this side or your side of the Equator.
        It is all very well to say we will vote in a party whose opinion seems to be in line with our ideals but more often than not they do not fulfill their political splurges.
        Who can we trust.We have the opportunity to vote either by choice or compulsory voting as it is Australia.
        Seems a waste of time.

        (Enough, I am going to bed, sort it out for me.)
        S

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      How can we sit and tap away more theological comments about how many angels sit on a pin etc when we are watching through half closed eyes the destruction of the inhabitable world which we so piously say we treasure.

      Because “the destruction of the inhabitable world” is SECULAR (“It’s All Gonna Burn”) while how many angels sit on a pin is SPIRITUAL(TM). And never the twain shall meet.

      And besides, on the Internet EVERYONE is off their meds.

  2. Where did you come across your information about the traditional meaning of the Advent wreath? I’ve done a lot of research on the origins of the tradition (it’s not really very old) but I’ve never come across that interpretation.

  3. Burro (Mule) says

    Of all the Orthodox fasts, I find the Advent Fast the hardest to keep. On hand it is hard because the rules are kind of confusing; fish is allowed every day except Wednesdays and Fridays until St. Andrew’s Day on the 30th of November, and you have permission to participate in the general gula on Thanksgiving Day. After that, it’s strictly vegan. Wine and oil (fried foods) are allowed on weekends, though.

    Add to that the general ass-backwardness of the American spending culture that goes full tilt into Eksmas a week before Thanksgiving now. By the time the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe rolls around (a feast that has more Orthodox celebrants than makes our bishops comfortable), the office, neighborhood, family, and heterodox church Christmas parties kick in with their countless micro-temptations.

    But it all falls into place on midnight on Christmas morning. The chanting ceases. The bells go silent. The censors stop tinkling. The huge domed sanctuary goes silent for a few eternal minutes as we contemplate together; the eternally begotten Son of God becomes Jesus the Human.

    So, Mockingbird has it right. Yes, things are That Bad. The koalas and the bushbabies burn up and the rats and cockroaches thrive. But it is not The Last Word. The Last Word is not ours to pronounce.

    • –> “But it is not The Last Word. The Last Word is not ours to pronounce.”

      And therein lies our hope, right? Or maybe, “the only hope we have” or “the only hope we’re left with.”

      I was thinking that the same would be said with The First Word. These things are not The First Word, either. And The First Word is also not ours to pronounce.

      We live, and die, in that place between The First Word and The Last Word, between the Alpha and the Omega.

      • Burro (Mule) says

        We will not save the planet or lose it. The Earth abides, and it is not ours to save or destroy [Ps. 24:1].
        We can save or destroy our own souls. Heck, the Earth survived the Permian extinction event

        Any political solution to the climate “crisis” is likely to be centrally-planned by Men Without Chests, heavy-handed and statist, bolstered with all the privacy invasion and surveillance technology Google, Apple and the NSA can dream up. It would make the Soviet Union look like New England town hall democracy.

        And it won’t even save the koalas.

        Most of the time I console myself with the fact that the Free Market Die-Off which is the only foreseeable alternative to the Draconian Woke State will be composed of the same brown, poor, unlamented horde that has been dying on my television screen for the past few decades. Then I remember that God is a just God and that Europe in 1914 was bursting with strong, vital, young white men who were flirting with the village girls in May and screaming in agony in No-Man’s Land in October.

        Things can go bad that quickly.

        • –> “We can save or destroy our own souls.”

          I’m not sure of even that. My soul is not mine to save. If it was/is, I’m doomed.

          –> “Heck, the Earth survived the Permian extinction event”

          I’ve mentioned this before, but I heard a comedian once say, “I don’t get why there are so many people calling for us to ‘Save the planet.’ The planet will do fine once we’re all dead. So what they are really saying is, ‘Save ourselves!'”

  4. Chaplain Mike,
    I have found Malcolm Guite’s series on the Sarum Antiphons to be very helpful during Advent season . . . you have a link to Malcolm Guite here on this site, so you may be familiar with his work.

    Most Christian people read the OT prophetic verses (Isaiah, etc.) during Advent also. Some hear these read aloud in the liturgy at Church. I can’t imagine a Christian experiencing Christmas without the preparation of an Advent period, but I know Advent is beginning to be more accepted among those who do not have it in their own traditions, but at least there are the writings of prophecy from the OT which might have been a help to them. (?)

    The decorations (wreath and candles) are good for children so that they can participate and help. This becomes for them a memory taken into their future which calls to them if they are ‘prone to wander’ in later life. 🙂

    • David Cornwell says

      “The decorations (wreath and candles) are good for children so that they can participate and help. This becomes for them a memory taken into their future which calls to them if they are ‘prone to wander’ in later life.”

      This has been true for me in the darkest times of my life. It isn’t the sermons that have been preached. I can barely remember any of them. But the rituals of Sunday worship throughout the Church year; the prayers that are offered each Sunday; the responses; the Psalms; the great hymns of the Church. They are always with me. The things I heard and participated in when I was 10, and 15, and 19, and 30. In my darkest days, these are what saves me and says that God is coming, the darkness will be lifted, the light of the Son will shine.

      • Christiane says

        yes, I’ve had a similar experience during very sad times of grief . . . I was sustained by the faith I was raised in as my family cared to see that we got to mass regularly

        it is strange how it works, but something about the liturgy does remain with us, and at those times that are so very difficult to get through, that help is stored within us and helps preserve us and carry us through the dark times

  5. Rampaging Chipmunk says

    What a depressive comment section. 100% honest question here: why not suicide? Is that not a logical conclusion to arrive at?

    • Hmm… though your question “why not suicide” is valid, I view the comments differently. As CM says in his last paragraph, “We must tell the truth that will reverberate in every human heart searching for consolation. Every other school of thought will try to paint the world as not as bad as it seems: Christianity alone will insist, Yes, it is this bad — and yet that is not the whole story.”

      So I see the comments more as a exploration of “indeed, why not suicide,” but answering with a “because there’s more to the story.”

      Sorry if that didn’t come across in my own comments. I’m ever the hopeful cynic, but sometimes my cynicism “outshines” my hope.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “We may as well all hold hands and walk into a chopper blade.”
      — Hawkeye Pierce, 4077 M*A*S*H

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Thing is, Evangelicals have been hammering “NO HOPE! NO HOPE! NO HOPE!” into everyone’s head since at least the 1970s. The purpose was to scare ’em into the Kingdom/Altar Call, but it backfired. BAD.

      And the solution they offered — God’s Fire Insurance and Rapture Boarding Pass (individual only, no group policies), an airlift/evac away from everything into the Spiritual — sounded just as bad. No here-and-now, all Hereafter.

      After 40+ years of such unbroken Christian Nihilism, you either kill yourself, go crazy, or grab for any Savior who WILL get the job done (“HAIL TRUMP!”).

      • Christiane says

        you understand, wise one . . . maybe THAT is why ‘trump’ for these fear-filled evangelical souls . . . any ‘savior’ will do in the storm . . . but they had sooner picked the devil than that poor man whose cruelty to others is so vivid

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Here’s something I ran across around a year and a half ago while corresponding with Eagle:

          It seems to back up his working hypothesis about why (like his blog’s regular troll) Born-Again Evangelicals are the most Fanatical of Trump Fanatics.

          https://natesparks130.com/2016/03/12/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/

          Money quote: Point 5 on the above page, first item under “The Ugly”.’

          5. Denny Burk recently wrote a post describing his experience of attending a Donald Trump rally. While the description of events is disturbing, I am forced to wonder if those within the Neo-Calvinist camp realize Trump is a monster of their own creation.

          Burk and company have built an empire on a theology of fear and antagonism. It is absolutely no surprise that the very people they have endeavored to control with fear now choose support a presidential candidate who amplifies the tactics of their own pastors/leaders.

          Links to this page:
          http://www.dennyburk.com/i-spent-super-tuesday-with-donald-trump/

          Look at the image of God you get way too often from American Christians, from the determinism of the Calvinist God to the occult woo-woo of the Ultra-Charismatic Spiritual Warriors.

          The Pious Piper writes and tweets about a Determinist God whose only goal is HIs Own Glory, whose only reason for existing is Glorifying God (no matter who gets hurt in the process). The Rapture Ready crowd gushes over a God who So Hated the World He’s about to send His Only Begotten Son to destroy it all and cast all except His Special Pets (guess who?) into Eternal Hell.

          Like some sort of Arrested Development Narcissist with Power, always obsessed with Loyalty of his inferiors and casting thunderbolts on whim after whim. (Remind you of anyone in the news?)

          When someone comes along who acts just like that God except more so, well, he must be More Godly(TM)! The Pastors who preached that thought THEY would be the one to fill those shoes. They groomed their pew peons over 40 years of Culture War, conditioned them to that axiom. They never dreamed someone would come along with a public persona more “Godly(TM)” than theirs…
          https://hellochristian.com/article-image/2018/9780fed7225de93fb5acdd703d2dd44a/st-louis-billboard-suggests-president-trump-is-the-word-made-flesh-photo-facebook.jpg

    • Chip,

      Suffering is a given. It may be hard to see and/or believe, but Christ is with us in our suffering. This is one of the huge ramifications of the Incarnation and of what Christ’s crucifixion entailed, and was the view of all of early Christianity. In my experience, post-Reformation Christianity didn’t have the resources to lead me to the understanding articulated here:

      https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2019/10/26/the-despised-god-2/

      If we choose suicide, we cut short God’s work in us in this life to bring us to a place of greater healing and trust in God for ourselves, and love for and service to others. I lately finished “Crime and Punishment”, and Dostoyevski’s sensibilities about this and other issues are still rattling around inside me. Why was it that the person most devoted to law and rules was the one to kill himself, and the premeditated killer gained such a deep sense of repentance and – through much suffering – came to have hope for a future for himself and his beloved? There are profound insights there.

      Dana

      • David Cornwell says

        “In my experience, post-Reformation Christianity didn’t have the resources to lead me to the understanding articulated here:”

        In my own experience, I’m finding this more and more to be true. The Reformation and it’s out-workings only lead to chaos on top of confusion. We are presented with a market place of choices, denominations, ministries, theological positions, and doctrines. We have thousands of little popes providing every form of quackery. I find much more uniformity in the writings of the early Fathers/Mothers (also). Tradition provided an interpretation of Scripture. Greek gives better continuity and translation than Latin. The early creeds kept it plain and simple.

        And in the end the blind will see; darkness will become light; Jesus is the Light of the World.

  6. David Cornwell says

    I know this is an inadequate answer to the question, but the church I attend has a service at the beginning of Advent, on an evening called “Luminous Night” — a service of lament and promise. All who are experiencing personal darkness of one kind or another are invited to attend a service where we bring lament, mourning, and disappointment. Music, song, prayer, poetry, and scripture speak to us during this time.

    I for one admit that I enter this period of time without much joy or good feeling. Mostly emptiness and some despair.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Winter Solstice is usually a depressing time of year, as we lose natural light and cold and dark predominate. Compounded by the Constant Forced Cheerfulness of our culture in this season. HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY (and woe to the mutant who doesn’t join in).

  7. Christiane says

    we sense a need for the Light in the darkness of the Winter Solstice
    , and in response, we place a candle in the window

    “”For in His condescension to men, God called the wise men by a star, the fishermen by their art of fishing.
    (St John Chrysostom)

  8. I have understood that one of the early criticism of Christianity is that God would not should not let mere humans kill him, the “worse” fate to God, man can kill God? What could be worse than Calvary? What came after the death of Christ? Faith came , mercy came. God that loved more than hated , God that loved his children, the best came after the worse. Hard to believe , hard to digest, hard to live up to. Cannot live up to God’s standards of sacrifice but Jesus was his sacrifice. Either you believe or you do not.

  9. “…whereas traditionally it commemorated the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell…”

    I’ve been searching the internet for a while now, and I can’t find anywhere else that someone makes that claim.

    Has anyone else heard of this?

  10. Barry wit da truth says

    I find these two links in four seconds of googling:
    http://www.oremus.org/liturgy/pohg/s3c1.html

    https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2019/12/01/advent-and-the-four-last-things/

    Soooooo yes, this is what Advent was traditionally about.