(This is just such a wonderful version of this advent hymn)
Looking Forward, Looking Back
What comes to mind when I say the word ‘Advent’?
Chocolate, Counting Down, Christmas, Candles? Jesus as a baby in a manger? Do you have fond memories of opening the last door? It’s become more and more apparent to me as I’ve written this blog how much I lament the state of the world we live in, but I will say this, it’s not out of sheer contempt for our age, but because like in every century the church must look both backwards and forwards. There are times, looking back, that I see something I wish we could understand better in our day, that’s a good thing, we call that theological retrieval and it’s mightily important. Looking back can only ever be encouraging up until a point though. Looking forward, past the future and into eternity, that makes my heart jump within my chest and beg to be set free. Therein lies the true meaning of Advent. Not only that we can look back to the first coming of Christ, the wise men, and the shepherds, but that Jesus will come again.
Let’s get stuck in.
The End Times
Oh man, I’ve gone there. I have to. It’s okay, take a deep breath, this doesn’t have the be a scary or even a contentious subject. Whatever you believe about the end times, we can (or should) all agree on these two things:
The world is broken right now
Christ will come again
A friend of mine from GCD wrote a haiku a couple of weeks about this which has stuck with me ever since.
(Thanks to Stacie, you can find her blog here)
Maybe you feel like that, like your world is weary, like your personal life is hemorrhaging and you’ve got no strength left, and that there is nothing you or anyone else can do about it. The truth is that we don’t know exactly how much longer this world has left, we don’t know how many more breaths we have to take, it could be tomorrow or it could be another thousand years from now. This may seem to us, as mortal beings, to be proof that nothing will ever get better. Whether we like it or not that is so often our mindset. Today was so awful, what is going to go wrong next? The bible doesn’t give us that vision though, instead, both Jesus and Paul take one of the most paradoxical experiences we humans experience to display to us what this suffering is like in the face of eternity.
“3 While he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 Jesus replied to them, “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many. 6 You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines, and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these events are the beginning of labor pains.”
Christian Standard Bible, Matthew 24:3–8.
Childbirth, though an experience I’m unlikely to go through, is one that we all know is incredibly painful, lengthy, dangerous, and did I mention painful? I have seen mother after mother though standing just hours or days after the experience with the product of their pain in their arms, smiles as wide as the Atlantic and glowing with joy. It’s unfathomable that anything could be worth that sacrifice, but we know that it is. Creation knows it too. Paul goes on to say:
18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it—in the hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. 23 Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 Now in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 Now if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.”
Christian Standard Bible, Romans 8:18–25.
Creation feels it, we feel it, we are uncomfortable here because we know there is something better to come. Wanting this world instead is like wishing you could stay in labour forever and never give birth. It would not only be an exercise in futility but would lead to nothing but greater pain. Instead then we seethe with discontent, sometimes righteous discontent about the state of the world around us. Like opening the doors of an advent calendar every day of our lives only to find nothing but nothingness within. Before you think me a commited deafeatist, I am not saying there isn’t joy to be found on earth, God in his grace has provided gifts here for our pleasure and for our good. Those gifts, even the greatest of them are but dim reflections of what’s to come. We believe, for instance, that marriage is all about providing an earthly image of Jesus and his own bride the Church.
“This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
Christian Standard Bible, Ephesians 5:32.
This gift, the one which other than God brings my life the most joy, is nothing when compared to the riches I am one day to receive in coming into final and divine union with Christ. I am driving home the severity of the depravity of our world because of the “glory that is going to be revealed to us” and the sheer depth and breadth of it. This advent, while all might seem grim and dark we can look beyond this world and into eternity.
What does it mean for me today?
You may be using an advent calendar this year, or you’re in a house with someone who is. If that’s the case whenever you see it, meditate on this, if not, make time to do so whenever you have the chance.
Looking at the door for today, imagine that you have no clue what’s behind it, it could be coal, stick, or stones. It might be a letter from your boss telling you that you’re being replaced or that your work is overdue. It could be a letter that you’ve just received a prize for something you did this year or a surprise visit from a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. Whether good or bad, today is a complete mystery to you. As you look down the rest of the doors, the same is true for all of them too. Except one. The final door, you know where that leads. Imagine for a second everything you know for sure about eternity. God is there. An everlasting feast. No more tears. No more suffering. All of those things are behind that door. As you begin to count down the rest of the days, how might you live your life differently if you knew that was certain to be the case? Would you prepare? Would you be less anxious in the face of the little things? What about the people you met along the way, would you hesitate to share the good news with them too, or would you leave it be?
That’s what advent is meant to be like. We spend four weeks (ish) seeking God and readying ourselves for the day he comes again. I am going to try and do this during this time, even if that means getting an advent calendar (which as a certified grinch is a serious commitment).
Grace and Peace,
Adsum Try Ravenhill
P.S. This is the first Sunday of advent, I really hope you have learned something and gained from it. Next week we’ll look deeper into how we might prepare ourselves in this season. I’ll be introducing you to a a man name Cyprian and a divine battle between and woman and a dragon. If that has peaked your interest and you’re not yet subscribed you can do that right here to keep up to date with everything being written from behind the Raven’s writing desk:
Thanks for reading The Raven's Writing Desk!
Some updates as we get into the final month of the year (how did that happen?)
We are going to be recording a whole bunch of episodes which will be released next year on a podcast called ‘Consider the Ravens’ which will be co-hosted with my better half Anna. We’ve got a couple of guests coming on, an author and an expert, so be sure to watch this space.
This isn’t my only article to have come out in the past few days, for those of you who don’t already know GCD published an article of mine encouraging American brothers and sisters with the bible and with prayer before Thanksgiving (which happened this past week). Though the holiday has passed, if you’d like to check that out you can do that via this link:
I’ve taken another week off of writing the 2 Tim 3:16-17 series, I haven’t ended the series, but it may come out fortnightly for the time being along with other Advent related articles. The long-term goal is to make this SubStack longer and contain 2/3 articles, but I’m not uite there yet. Thanks so much for your patience and support.
TL;DR Version of today’s Article: