Advent: When the threat of terror and the prospect of trust collide

by Ken Sehested

Advent is the Christian season when the threat of terror and the prospect of trust collide, both competing for our attention regarding prospects for the future. Will it be more of the same; only intensified?

In all times and places the dominant cultural voices (secular and religious) have denied that history will ever break free of its orbit of pain, suffering, and loss—as if history has its own unbreakable sway of gravity. They are called the “realists,” and they champion charity to suppress the demands of justice. Though the church will occasionally read the Beatitudes in public, few put much stock in such a future.

There’s no better summary of such popular wisdom than by the cheeky comment of Countess Violet Crawly (played by Maggie Smith) in the television show, “Downton Abby.”

“Hope,” the Countess insisted, “is a tease to keep us from accepting reality.”

Famously, the Apostle Paul confronted what the realists called “foolishness” with his affirmation that God’s foolishness can be trusted. According to him (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-30), the Gospel announcement is that another world is not only possible but is in fact on its way—present already in those with open rather than grasping hands—as the aperitif of an era beyond scorched time.

In Latin, there are two words for the future. Futurus suggests a future constructed out of the past and present. Futurologists are those who rely on extrapolations from present trends, indicators that lean toward sustaining present patterns of power and suppressing alternative visions.

The word adventus, on the other hand, suggests the arrival of the new. Certainly for Christians, the season of Advent brings us to the edge of our chairs, straining for the sound of the announcement of annulment for earth’s agony. This waiting and watching is neither neutral nor passive. It is sustained by a bias, one that governing authorities fear, who want only futurus, more of the same.

Advent is the seasonal marking of adventus faith, formed by the beatific vision of a future beyond all currently available calculations, one that can be receiving only by those with unclenched fists and unclasped hearts, one that does not obliterate creatureliness but arises from its compost.

The stories we tell and songs we sing in our sanctuaries remind us that buoyancy emerges from unseen places, at unknowing moments, in unpredictable ways, beyond present reckoning and prognostication.

The present world’s futurus rulers always want to limit what is possible to what is available. Adventus people instinctively know that reality will not be bridled by apparent history and its imperial champions.

Advent is the invitation to attentiveness even when the sap isn’t running, in the face of a howling cold wind and the frightful dark night.

So, kindred, carpe noctem—sieze the night.

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