This week while you are at the coffee shop, or shopping downtown, cyber shopping and what ever else you might be doing to get ready for the holidays, when they ask you about what the sermon was about in church on Sunday, you can say this: “I don’t know, but whatever he was talking about he said that the sermon was not about entropy.”
Entropy is a term borrowed from physics and has to do with thermodynamics. The basic gist of it is that all things tend towards deterioration and chaos. In social terms, entropy is summarized in the title of a blues artist I sometimes enjoy—Junior Kimbrogh—from the title of an album, “most things haven’t worked out.”
Now, at first blush, it would seem that the message that most of us take away from Advent Sunday would have to do with entropy. There’s the theme of the coming judgement. There’s a solemn warning far sterner than “you’d better watch out…you’d better not pout.” The lessons tend to point to being ready for the ending of all things with more zeal that survivalists did at the turn of the millennium.
Yet there are ways in which Advent is not about what it appears to be at first glance. One of the things that Advent communicates as a season of the church year is a message of hope and a message that new beginning, impossible though they seem in the world, are possible with God. One neglected theme of Advent has to do with the redemption of the passage of time.
So here we stand with 33 days left of the year 2015. The rest of 2015 is in the history books. The days grow short as we continue towards the coming of winter. The days grow cold. All human beings have awareness of the passing of time. And because we all live in time, it is our experience that all things come to an end. Nothing lasts forever. There was a day when the car was new, but it is old. The corollary to this is that all change is perceived as loss. When something is new and improved, the old is no longer. The brave new world is not the good old days. As human beings we have a nostalgia for what is familiar. We therefore grieve and lament change.
In part that is why some people find themselves so depressed, rather than filled with joy at the holiday time of year.
Because we live in time and we cannot live apart from it, all cultures, all people in every era have had a vision of the end. There was Gilgamesh cycle from ancient Babylon; the flood cycle from Genesis; the vision of the end held by the prophets; the ending of all things in the vision of St. John the Divine. Nor is the vision of the end limited to a religious perspective. Sometimes that vision of the end comes from other cultural and scientific disciplines: in our lifetime we have seen the view of the end in the specter of nuclear holocaust; the end by fire through the destruction of the ozone layer; climate change or global warming; wholesale pollution of the world making it an unfit place to sustain life and others.
Cultural Anthropologists such as the late Joseph Campbell, historians of religion such as Mircea Eliade and others, theologians, philosophers, and poets all point to the fixation that humans have with this general apocalyptic vision of the eschaton—that’s fancy speak for the ending of all things just because we live in time. And in case you don’t believe it, how many of us regularly make impassioned speeches about how the world has gone or is going to pieces in an handbasket.
In a very real way, Advent is about the redemption of this fear. Who comes at the end of time: Him through whom time was created. Who comes? Jesus the lamb of God; the one both righteous and compassionate. Jesus who has not forgotten his tender compassion for the human race, for he still bears the marks of his passion and suffering. He comes as judge, but as the righteous judge, not the corrupt one. He comes as the judge who will establish justice, true justice, God’s justice upon earth.
Curiously Advent is the beginning of the Church Year. In our secular calendar, there are but 33 days left of 2015, but here we are even now looking to the promise of new beginnings—new beginnings in which grace and forgiveness—both in short supply in the world—are possible through the Lord Jesus Christ. The overwhelming message is an invitation to rejoice. It may look like the end is near, but God is in charge. It may look like everything is coming to an end, but we are preparing to celebrate the promise of life in a new birth.
Advent is a time of comfort and hope.