Worship on The Land ‘At Home Edition’ (Episode 6)
A pastor stood behind the pulpit with sweaty palms and a racing heart, knowing that the sermon he was about to preach to the congregation was embarrassingly lacking. Desperately praying for God’s intervention, the pastor noticed out of the corner of his eye a letter floating down from the sky. Relieved, the pastor rushed to grab the letter opening it so quickly the paper almost torn in two.
The pastor stood speechless, staring at the letter as the congregation eagerly waited to hear what the letter from God said. Little did the congregation know that the pastor’s letter contained a picture of a million squiggly lines and hundreds of shapes overlapping, all drawn in a different color. Below this visual conundrum was a note that read, “I hope this helps. God.”
After several moments, the pastor quietly stuck the letter under the sermon. Announcing to the congregation that this was what the letter said, he began to read his previously embarrassingly lacking sermon.
I wrote this little parody this week as a sort of cold opener to describe both how I felt about my message and, ironically because of its name, how I felt about the book of Revelation.
A logical starting place for this particular message would be to address why this scripture passage is being used during Advent.
This inquiry was also the beginning of my study because, admittedly, I could not remember why I picked the scripture. This is not entirely unusual lately. In the constant transitional state of our world right now, every week, reading the scripture I picked out months ago has felt like a discovery in a fridge that needs to be cleaned out. You wonder how it got there, how long it has been sitting there, and what it originally was whenever it got there.
My study began with the typical graduate-level spiritual discernment process of googling things like ‘what is the relationship between Revelation 1:4-8 and advent’ and ‘why use Revelation 1:4-8 during Advent’ and ‘what was my reasoning for picking Revelation 1:4-8 during Advent.’
Since Google did not help jog my memory, serving as a decent sign that no one in the world wide web knows why Revelation 1:4-8 would be used during Advent, I took on the honorary task of making up my own reasons for the placement of this passage.
First of all, Revelation is not an easy book. Nor is it one I have honestly spent much time delving into. Overall, to me, it reads a little crazy. And, in my defense, the commentary, bible studies, and sermons typically based on Revelation read even crazier. The whole contemporary culture around Revelation in the context of the broader biblical narrative has never made sense to me until this week when I read these words:
“Unlike the letter to the Romans, which uses an argument to persuade readers that the revelation to which it bears witness should be taken seriously, Revelation’s word pictures seek to address and involve readers and relocate them in the divine economy…Apocalypse does not consist of propositional, logical, or factual language but persuades by means of the evocative, persuasive power of its symbolic language compelling imaginative participation.”
There is no stagnant truth in Revelation, no code to break. It is a purposeful crazy—a meaningful mess requiring engagement with the unmanageable and irrational. In the method of imaginative exploration for applicable meaning, we surrender our need to collect data and facts, to record measurable outcomes, or to relieve internal anxieties by achieving an outcome upon which everything can be based forever.
Described as a peculiar form of writing, apocalypse offers us glimpses of the mystery of God’s purposes. As a series of revelations translated from things seen and heard into words, this apocalyptical narrative intentionally leaves readers coming up short in translation as we begin to recognize that God’s ways are not our ways and that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.
As a dive into the deep end of divine mystery, Revelation is a challenge to strain our imaginations that we might witness the work of God in the world and join with God in this unconventional, unpredictable work. In a way, Revelation is the ultimate checkmate from the divine supremacy of the Alpha and Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come. Our first move to get anywhere with Revelation is to give up on trying to figure out what strategy to use to discern what is the best next move to make.
Revelation may be placed a few books after the birth of Jesus in the Bible, but it is truly the mindset of Revelation that is needed to faithfully carry on the message and mission of Christ. The embodiment of unmanageable, illogical, crazy-making imagination.
There are reasons pastors do not lead with imagination and preach on imagination and teach how to live with imagination as a practice, as a spiritual discipline. There are reasons a lacking sermon is an easier sword to fall on than an abstract picture handed down directly from God’s hand. Answered questions, stagnant stories make for uneventful participation in a religion that knows and awaits its ending. If this was the purpose Revelation serves and not, in fact, what it actually is: a looking glass to distort everything we thought we knew so that we might be humble and courageous enough to step back and try another view. An invitation to continue walking the path of discipleship faithfully even with the blurry vision and brutal vertigo Revelation provides.
The story of life, death, and rebirth plays out so much in the gospel that we cannot help but witness the never-ending cycle of all that is and was and will be. As an intentional season of waiting, Advent locates us in an ever-changing and evolving world. Advent pulls us deeper into an imaginative exercise of relearning and revisioning the possibilities of the birth of Jesus not only in the manger but the birth of Christ in all things and all places.
Revelation is a disclaimer that there is still much to be revealed and even more waiting to be unlearned or un-understood. Jesus’ birth is a bookmark in an eternal unfolding of life being born all around us.
There is still hope to take shape, peace to find form, and joy to sing a new song. The Revelation in Advent is the awareness of the constancy of change and the solid base of sacred in all that is, throughout the changes. Waiting in the arrival to the mysterious reality that God is present in all that is and was and will be. An assurance that the changes are through and with that force, that being, that eternal love… How often do we acknowledge or hold this in our being, our presence? The great unknowing of all that was and is and will be? How often do we wait patiently, staring at the scribbles just admiring the beauty of the mystery and the possibility of all that will never be known?
Perhaps it is this, the revelation of all that was not and is not and will not be revealed, that connects us to the work of waiting in Advent and the miracle of the birth of Jesus into the world.