Fourth manAdvent is my kind of season.

No, not the pseudo-Advent of most Christian piety with liturgically-correct hymns and texts on the Sundays of the season and full-on Christmas hoopla all the other days, but this one: the ancient, autumnal interval of darkness and foreboding with its achy uncertainty blanketing landscapes both inner and outer. This Advent offers room for doubt and struggle. It grants permission to rest in — rather than to resolve — the tensions and paradoxes, the sometimes maddening contradictions that shape the life of discipleship.

We read the appointed texts for the Sundays of Advent and they are startling in their bleakness, their familiarity inuring us to meanings inscrutable, ominous, perilous. (Unless we subscribe to the Left Behind school of hermeneutics, in which liturgical Advent doesn’t exist and these texts are never bad news for us).

What the season reveals in its hymns, poems, texts, and traditions is that we begin the Christian year not by embarking on a straightforward path to nativity joy but by acknowledging the gaping chasm that exists, as Rowan Williams has put it, between “our deepest and holiest longing and the reality of God.”

Prophetic oracle is a fitting literary companion for traversing such a divide. While the lectionary texts for Advent are rooted in a time and place that have everything to do with their significance for our own time and place, it’s the apocalyptic form itself that provides strange comfort to those of us with less than sunny spiritualities. We are not very sure of ourselves, theologically and otherwise. Our questions often consume us, overwhelm us. More than anything, sentimental Christianity makes us want to run away from church and never come back.

But the Advent rantings of John the Baptizer and the little apocalypse of Mark’s gospel intrigue us and are part of the reason we stay. There’s something interesting going on here, something that even an accommodated church can’t quite tame, obscure, or ignore. The God spoken of in these ancient texts is saving a people and redeeming all of creation. In this work we sense, with Flannery O’Connor, that “grace must wound before it heals.”

And we also sense that the three-fold coming (adventus) of Christ — as baby refugee, as word and sacrament, as glorious Lamb of God — is more political than personal: He comes to “shake the powers in the heavens” that justice at long last might be established, that the politics of fear and the economics of scarcity might be exposed as the fraudulent scams they are. In Jesus is abundance — life and health and joy for all. For the brooding skeptics and cynics among us, indeed for all Advent people, He is the apocalyptic thief who breaks in not to rob us but to give us the goods.

Maybe a domesticated church — even one that observes pseudo-Advent — can hear this good news with new ears.

Photo by Stuart Anthony/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0.

Debra Dean MurphyDebra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.

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That  chasm between our longing and "the reality of God" is  huge in its dimensions because nobody knows what the "reality" of God really is. We're not comfortable with haze, so we try to capture it and stuff it into a little black box called "Dogma,"  but   the "reality" of God eludes us.  For example, what does it mean to say that God is the "redeemer?"   Notions of Divine grace---of "saving" and "redeeming" mankind--- lie at the core of Christianity.  These imply that we are so very, very bad.  Why? Well, we were once very, very good, but then we had the nerve to  eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  In other words, we asked questions and were curious.  But if that's so bad, well, who made us that way? The notion of grace---that God is willing to save us from the very characteristics that he put into us to begin with---that's pretty convoluted.  Why would God do this? So he can look good by "saving" us?    Wasn't it bad enough that he had that little bet with Satan, at Job's expense?  Are we little pawns on some grand chess board? You write that God wants justice on earth.  Well, if you attribute to God the creation of the universe, then he didn't set a very good example.  Weren't things  set up unjust to begin with?   Some are born weak, others strong.  Some are born blind, or deaf, or lame.  Some contract deadly diseases; others don't.  People are the heroes here, working for centuries toward noble goals---to cure disease, for example, and to create just societies.  But, Heaven forbid I should say THAT!  That's committing the sin of PRIDE.  God's supposed to get the credit for it all.   I have to stop now.  It's advent.  Time to find a place of quiet within.


May I share the newsletter article my reading of your blog inspired:

give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been
given you

in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched
in him, in speech and knowledge

of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been
strengthened among you—

so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you
wait for the revealing

of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ! Corinthians 1: 4-7


- the
three-fold coming (adventus) of Christ — as baby refugee,

as word and sacrament, as
glorious Lamb of God. ~ D. D. Murphy


We have
quite a time with the coming of Christ – we are achievers, reachers, and receivers,
yes, but what we receive must first pass our critical scrutiny! God comes,
nevertheless, whether we see a possibility that is bleak, or hear a word that
would stretch us, or are visited with all power and glory, or not.


At the
outset of a new year the time is now to be honest with ourselves. We have our
most passionate convictions set beside our deepest doubts; and between the one
and the other is our realization of the dark – a silence – this unusual place
between our usual places. Is the coming of God in Christ going to cross the
gaping chasm?


We read
not only the scriptures but the times: The perilous is foreboding – “the powers
in the heavens will be shaken”; our uncertainty aches – “all our righteous
deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf”; and the ominous would
overwhelm us – “you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into
the hand of our iniquity.” (from Mark 13 & Isaiah 64) Are we invited to
rest between apocalyptic fear and nativity joy, untamed salvation and
sentimental piety, our holiest longing and the comfort of worshipping a
crucified God?!


Yet, we
have been, are, and will again make our way to the manger, even if first we
must pass through the wilderness where John the Baptizer is preaching. With
prophet, psalmist, apostle, and evangelist in hand, by the grace of God we will
tell the good news and enact the story for the saving of people, and the
redemption of all creation. Catching fire with Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, we
burn abundantly, and make light with our lives, health, and place of joy for
God through Christ, who in the Holy Spirit is come, and is coming again!


Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things,
strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15and
regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. 1 Peter 3:14-15a

Thank you so much for such an insightful writing!