Few activities fuel a connection with Advent like reading the news. Stories about weather catastrophes, wars and rumors of wars have many Christians across the theological and political spectrum wondering if the apocalypse is near and perhaps finding themselves praying the words, “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.”
A 2022 study found news headlines have become increasingly negative since 2000, and “anger, fear, disgust and sadness” are on the rise, with anger being especially high in right-leaning news media.
One common response is to become weary of it all, to wish there were better news to share. In fact, three years ago during the COVID-19 pandemic, actor and director John Krasinski started a show called “Some Good News,” which was “dedicated entirely to good news.”
“One common response is to become weary of it all, to wish there were better news to share.”
But we can’t ignore all the news, whether “good” or “bad.” And what’s “good news” to some is “bad news” to others.
According to BNG Executive Director Mark Wingfield: “Our role as a global news service is to speak to the major religious and cultural events of our time, to help explain them and to shape intelligent conversation about them.”
Referring to this year’s BNG reader survey, he noted: “There are some among our readers — a minority, to be sure — who wish we just wouldn’t talk about all this ‘political’ stuff. One reader told me this week he just gets frustrated reading BNG because all this news upsets him so much. But he keeps reading.”
The heaviness many of us feel is the unveiling of a longing for something better, a feeling of being exiled from the wholeness we consider to be home. Like the cold, dark season of Advent, we wait for the birth of this home.
The dark liturgy of Advent and apocalypse
In contrast to the proclamations of “Merry Christmas,” depictions of jolly old Saint Nicholas and messages of coming “home for the holidays” featured in department stores and commercials all across the world, the liturgical readings for Advent are quite dark and typically connect the experiences of waiting for the first coming of Jesus with waiting for the second coming of Jesus.
The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent quoted Luke 21, saying:
There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
This Scripture reading hardly pairs well with licking a candy cane. Instead, it reveals a confession of feeling the presence of exile while waiting for something new to unfold.
An apocalypse of created beings in exile
Many of us who grew up in conservative Baptist churches are familiar with the end times charts that gave detailed depictions of how the preacher thought the end would unfold. Sometimes there were differences regarding whether the rapture would happen prior, during or after the great seven-year tribulation. Others disagreed over whether those who heard about penal substitutionary atonement prior to the rapture would be allowed to repent if they missed the rapture.
“And that’s why we opposed the Democrats, of course.”
But whatever the case, we were convinced the United Nations was somehow involved in a plot to use guillotines to decapitate whatever evangelicals were present on the earth during those seven years. And that’s why we opposed the Democrats, of course.
No matter the differences, each view of the apocalypse ended in division where animals go nowhere after death, while people do, and where some people go to one place while others go to another. In other words, these were eschatologies of created beings in exile from one another.
The media and the apocalypse of exile
While the bestselling Left Behind book series by the Baptist preacher Tim LaHaye and fiction writer Jerry B. Jenkins projected this apocalypse onto a fictionalized future, a televangelist named Jack Van Impe became popular for projecting this apocalypse onto news headlines.
Impe, who was ordained as an Independent Fundamental Baptist preacher, spent his first few decades as an ardent separatist from any Christian who wasn’t independent Baptist. But as his radio and television shows grew in the 1980s, he apologized and began uniting with other Christians who believed differently. His show Jack Van Impe Presents aired weekly in about 25,000 cities in the U.S. and Canada, and in 150 nations worldwide. Each episode included Impe quoting Bible verses and news headlines side by side.
But at the end of his life, he turned back toward separation, including leaving his network because it wouldn’t air an episode where he accused pastors Rick Warren and Robert Schuller of conspiring to start a new religion uniting Christianity and Islam and calling it, “Chrislam.”
An apocalypse of created beings in union
Despite the consensus among evangelicals that the apocalypse will end in the exile of created beings, a case can be made from Scripture for an apocalypse of the uniting of created beings.
Ephesians 1:9-10 says God’s will is “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Of course, evangelicals would say God must first bring judgment to non-evangelicals.
But Romans 11:32 says, “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”
And just as Ephesians 1 speaks of this union as a mystery, the doxology at the end of Romans 11 makes the same connection. But while evangelicals often quote the Romans 11 doxology, they never mention the declaration of universal mercy a few verses earlier that gave birth to it.
“What if what we are really longing for is a universally relational wholeness we’ve lacked awareness of?”
What if “to him are all things” is the direction of the universe? What if Paul asking who knows the mind of God and can be God’s counselor is a subtle hint that perhaps God knows the complexities of our minds, becomes our counselor and forgives us because we don’t know what we’re doing? What if justice is God as our counselor bringing restorative healing to our minds and bodies while drawing us into love? And what if what we are really longing for is a universally relational wholeness we’ve lacked awareness of?
One might even describe this good news as a “message of reconciliation” that’s already happened in contrast to “counting people’s sins against them.”
Are Advent and apocalypse in exile?
In a recent sermon, Mark Driscoll discussed today’s news topics such as building up the U.S. military, securing the border and funding the police. Then he climaxed in a rage yelling: “Our Lord Jesus Christ is returning! I promise you of that! He came the first time as a Lamb in humility! He’s coming the second time as a Lion to conquer! He came the first time to shed his blood! He’s coming the second time to shed the blood of his enemies! He came the first time to endure the wrath of God! He’s coming the second time to pour out the wrath of God! And when the nations and the anti-Christ and the demon spirits and the evildoers oppose him, he won’t even say a word! He’ll just breathe! And everyone will be destroyed! And all of God’s children will be delivered! Wooo!”
Then with both arms and hands slamming down on the pulpit, Driscoll screamed, “I can’t wait to see Jesus! I can’t wait to see Jesus!”
“To Driscoll, and many evangelicals, the Jesus of Advent is in exile from the Jesus of apocalypse.”
To Driscoll, and many evangelicals, the Jesus of Advent is in exile from the Jesus of apocalypse. These Jesuses have very different agendas, personalities and postures toward created beings.
For others, the exile is between our current calling and our future hope. After Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Billy Graham said, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” In other words, to Graham, the union we will one day experience in the apocalypse is in exile from what we should participate in today.
In his book Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America, Russell Moore says: “American evangelical Christianity is deeply connected to the apocalyptic, often in ways that rightly draw the derision of the world around us. We are the people who are quick to announce in the aftermath of any disaster exactly who God was punishing by letting it happen, and we are the ones whose prophecy charts have predicted the imminent end of the world time and time again, always, so far, wrongly.”
Moore says apocalypse is about an “‘unveiling,’ peering behind appearances to what’s really there.”
So what if our current experience of Advent as we follow the news is somehow in union with our theology of apocalypse as an unveiling of our home?
Unveiling our home behind the appearances of exile
Moore offers this hope: “The good news is that if God was the one who sent his people out into exile, then he was with them there. They could find him there.”
Even though by all appearances the people of Israel in Babylonian captivity were far from the land, temple and king they longed for, they could be at home with the presence of God in and among them.
Moore adds, “Only those with no home are frantic to find one.” Then he tells his readers to “remind yourself where home really is and pray and meditate upon that until you start to long for it.”
Moore’s language reminds me of Acts 17, where Paul rejects a hierarchical view of a God up there who needs service by human hands down here and instead suggests God “is not far from any one of us” because it is in God “we live and move and have our being.”
“The apocalypse, then, is the unveiling that God already is with us here.”
Serving a disconnected God up there or reaching out for a God who is distant from us is like trying to reach for the universe. The apocalypse, then, is the unveiling that God already is with us here. And thus, to long for home is to be still and know the “I Am” presence of God in and among us here and now.
Healing toward union with those we are exiled from
Of course, the problem we experience is we feel so exiled from one another.
I fully agree with Moore’s apocalyptic “vision of a renewed cosmos, of ‘everything sad coming untrue,’” and that the problem with the churches in Revelation “was that their situation was unconscious to them.” But where I differ from Moore is when he continues to affirm a retributive view of justice that includes billions of people being eternally exiled from God.
How could that apocalypse of universal exile possibly be described as “everything sad coming untrue”? Even though Moore would have an answer to his satisfaction, I think he would admit it’s a fair question.
Despite the differences we have, Moore writes that when our identity is at home: “We can work with people — even with whom we disagree — on matters, issue by issue, but we don’t belong to them. We will not be crushed when we see people who agree with us on some things disagree with us on others. And we won’t be terrified when we find that people who disagree with us on most things agree with us on something — for fear that we will be accused of ‘disloyalty.’ Once you own your exile, the threat of exile is meaningless.”
Religious news organizations, like BNG, give us the opportunity to explore the exiles who are unconscious to us, and then to converse with others we disagree with in order to work toward an apocalypse of healed union.
Neither Moore nor I desire a cheap unity like that of Impe’s conspiratorial “Chrislam” that pretends the differences we have do not exist. And if our unity is based on agreed theological concepts, we’re going to be in exile.
But if we each share some seed of an apocalypse of healed union where everything sad comes untrue, where might we plant it?
Union in loving neighbor as self
Despite all the complexities of the Mosaic Law, the center in Leviticus 19 is a rejection of retribution and an embrace of loving your neighbor as yourself.
Despite all the complexities of the four Gospels, or of the interplay between the testaments, the central teaching of Jesus is a rejection of retribution and an embrace of loving neighbor as self.
To Jesus, that meant:
- To bring good news to the poor
- To proclaim release to the captives
- To proclaim recovery of sight to the blind
- To set free those who are oppressed
- To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
In other words, the Advent waiting Jesus experienced was active participation in union with his apocalyptic justice of healing restoration.
What if Jesus’ apocalyptic language was interpreted within the larger context of his mission? In that sense, his theology of apocalypse would have been a way of communicating his mission for the kingdom here and now. The dualistic future judgment would reveal how the exiles in and among us are fueled by the hierarchies we build over one another. Thus, Jesus would be revealing with his teaching and his life that healing justice comes through the subversion of hierarchies where the throne is a cross and retribution is exchanged for love.
If the Mosaic Law, the Gospels, the two testaments and the life and ministry of Jesus all meet there, perhaps that’s where our union could be born as well.
Waiting to be born, the work of Christmas begins
When we read the news with the union of Advent and apocalypse, we realize what we are waiting for is what we are participating in.
On one hand, Howard Thurman writes about Christmas waiting to be born:
Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes
And the heart consumes itself, if it would live,
Where little children age before their time,
And life wears down the edges of the mind,
Where the old man sits with mind grown cold
While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly to death,
Where fear companions each day’s life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed,
Christmas is waiting to be born
In you, in me, in all humanity.
But on the other hand, Thurman brings the apocalypse into the home of our waiting:
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner
To bring peace among the brothers,
To make music in the heart.
Reading and participating in the good news
How you connect apocalypse to Advent affects how you interact with the news. If you’re waiting for the other side to get throttled by God, then you’ll read and share stories of conspiracies that foster fear and violence and promote exile and hierarchy. But if you’re waiting for the healed union of all, you’ll read and share stories that deal with our exiles and hierarchies and work toward the reconciliation of healed union.
“How you connect apocalypse to Advent affects how you interact with the news.”
As Mark Wingfield observes: “We know from our recent reader survey that somewhere between one-third and one-half of our readers are engaged in direct advocacy of various kinds for the issues they believe in. Only 20% said they’ve done nothing from a list of possible actions. That means the vast majority of our readers, taken together, are raising their voices to make a difference in our world. Our hope is that you, dear reader, would not just read our articles and say, ‘Oh, that’s interesting,’ but that you would read and — at least from time to time — be moved to action.”
Rick Pidcock is a 2004 graduate of Bob Jones University, with a bachelor of arts degree in Bible. He’s a freelance writer based in South Carolina and a former Clemons Fellow with BNG. He completed a master of arts degree in worship from Northern Seminary. He is a stay-at-home father of five children and produces music under the artist name Provoke Wonder. Follow his blog at www.rickpidcock.com.