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Advent day three: Apocalyptic Hope

12.5. 2017 Posted By: The Mennonite 327 Times read

John Tyson serves as associate pastor for faith formation at Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kansas. 

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. 2 He called out with a mighty voice,

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
It has become a dwelling place of demons,
a haunt of every foul spirit,
a haunt of every foul bird,
a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.
For all the nations have drunk
of the wine of the wrath of her fornication,
and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury.”
Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
so that you do not take part in her sins,
and so that you do not share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.
Render to her as she herself has rendered,
and repay her double for her deeds;
mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed.
As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously,
so give her a like measure of torment and grief.
Since in her heart she says,
‘I rule as a queen;
I am no widow,
and I will never see grief,’
therefore her plagues will come in a single day—
pestilence and mourning and famine—
and she will be burned with fire;
for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.”
And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

“Alas, alas, the great city,
Babylon, the mighty city!
For in one hour your judgment has come.” Revelation 18:1-10

At the opening of his classic book, Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman writes: “To those who need profound succor and strength to enable them to live in the present with dignity and creativity, Christianity often has been sterile and of little avail…Too often the price exacted by society for security and respectability is that the Christian movement in its formal expression must be on the side of the strong against the weak.”

Thurman published Jesus and the Disinherited nearly 40 years ago, but not much has changed. His diagnosis of Christianity is on point.

These days, in my pastoral work, I have a lot of conversations with people who express that they feel disoriented. The world, they say, is falling apart. They point convincingly to nuclear threats, climate virulence, a broken justice system, corporate tax breaks, racial violence, mass shootings, and mad tweets. Amid crisis, they ask, what does our faith have to say to our present world?

I confess that this question often leads me to a place of silence.

Here’s why: All too often, the Christian faith has been used to support ideologies that lead to suffering. All too often, the church has looked the other way in the face of injustice and has protected men who abuse power. All too often, as Thurman says, Christians have sided against those with “their backs against the wall.”

I struggle with this question because Christianity has done its share to create the present world of crisis that we now lament. How can our faith speak prophetic wisdom to a world of its own making?

Out of this aporia, there is the apocalyptic vision of John of Patmos in Revelation 18.

Far off in exile, John anticipates the fall of the Roman Empire. The empire has become a “dwelling place of demons.” Widespread corruption. Economic exploitation. Worship of violence. The “kings of the earth” take pleasure in the spoils of empire, while the rest scour for scraps. But in the shadows of the spectacle, the signs of decline are coming to light. The empire is falling apart.

As the vision unfolds, the people of God are summoned to leave Rome. A voice calls out: “Come out of her, my people!” Rome’s sins are “high as heaven.” The plagues of judgment are coming. The fires are spreading. The people of God are waiting for a New Jerusalem to emerge from the dust.

In this season of Advent, as we wait for the newness of Christ’s arrival, I find myself drawn to these apocalyptic visions of Scripture. The gap between the visions of John and our present world seems smaller every day. To be a follower of Jesus now is to confess that Christianity has been complicit in the creation of our present world. We begin with repentance, but we cannot stop there. We must search our faith for resources that enable us to join the work of creating a future that is just and sustainable for all creatures who call this world home.

Perhaps paradoxically, one of those resources is apocalyptic Scripture. Apocalyptic Scripture confronts us with the reality that the world as it is doesn’t have to be. For those with “their backs against the wall,” apocalyptic scripture is hope. For the powerful of this world, apocalyptic Scripture is a warning. Apocalyptic Scripture is prophetic. In the spirit of Thurman, it calls us to “come out of” all things death-dealing and recover the resources of our faith that give life.

There is truth in the feeling that the present world is falling apart and passing away. Let’s join hands in prayer and action and anticipate the world to come.

Read previous Advent reflections and sign up to receive our 2017 daily Advent devotionals in your e-mail inbox. 

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