From The Weight of Advent
by Ian at Mockingbird
[T]he prophetic word of Advent authorizes us to tell the truth about the world. As Edgar pronounces in the final scene of King Lear, “The weight of this sad time we must obey/ Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” John the Baptizer exemplifies this ethos: he speaks his mind, giving voice to the silent grumblings of the lower class and of God alike. He is an inconvenient note ringing out in the wilderness, embarrassing to the priestly class from which he is descended. His importunity and refusal of bland niceness is what prepares the way of the Lord. This is the face of Advent: mourning in lonely exile, crying out, “O Lord, come quickly! Vanquish the Devil and all his works!”
But even this season, when it is remembered, is all too often hijacked and sterilized, sawn off to fit a Procrustean bed of niceness. The advent wreath, a relatively novel development in the history of the church, celebrates hope, faith, joy, and peace, whereas traditionally it commemorated the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. These things are the outcomes of our works; all our trials are participations in them. Advent is more than the time of preparation for Christmas: it is the post-Nativity time given to us to contemplate the end seeded in that beginning. We look back in order to look forward. For as sure as the Lord was born to a virgin in Bethlehem, he will return to judge and restore.
As with so many other things, we sanitize what isn’t safe and therefore lose what is nutritious. Is the traditional Advent safe? No, but it is good….
…The only genuinely effective apologetic available to Christian faith is its forthright speaking (παρρεσια) about the distress and affliction that characterizes our world and our species’ pathological inability to effect lasting change to heal it. Bolstering the historical veracity of Christianity’s claims is useful, as is philosophically demonstrating its systematic coherence, but none of these things are the Sun of righteousness by which light is shone into darkness. We must tell the truth that will reverberate in every human heart searching for consolation. Every other school of thought will try to paint the world as not as bad as it seems: Christianity alone will insist, Yes, it is this bad — and yet that is not the whole story.