Getting into the heavy metal season of Advent

Published 5:03 pm Wednesday, November 30, 2022

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By Chris Adams

Are you a big Metallica fan like me? Never mind. I know you are. They’re the greatest rock band of all time! Certainly, you were excited beyond measure when they released a new song and announced a new world tour this week. It was the best Christmas present I could ever receive, and it’s not even Christmas yet!

Metallica is my favorite band of all time.  Full stop. You might be thinking that’s something of a paradox for a priest. Metal bands like Metallica, Megadeth, and Pantera often call attention to the ugliness in the world. They don’t usually shine brightly like pop-divas or Top 40. They don’t often sing the praises of beautiful things like Pavarotti. Instead, they often shine a light on the darkness.

Well, that’s not totally right.  They don’t talk about the darkness in order to dwell in it.  To remain in it.  To stay there in a place of despair.  So much of the heavy metal spirit is about naming the darkness of the world in order to then allow the lights of self-determination and hope blaze a path forward. It’s about allowing the darkness to teach us how to persevere when the light is dim, and to even find beauty in those dark moments when the absence of overwhelming light allows us to slow down, to rest, and to wait for the right time to rise up and above.

Advent is a Christian season that shares a similarity with that heavy metal spirit.  While the secular joys of Christmas have begun in earnest, within the liturgy on Sundays we hear Scriptures that speak of waiting in the darkness and looking for glimmers of hope. We sing songs in minor keys that name the longing of the human spirit to break away from the bondage of oppression, violence, and hunger. The bondage of sin. This season is a cauldron in which all of our fear, and pain, and unknowing, along with our hopes and joys, swirl together and, by the time we celebrate the First Mass of Christmas, break forth that morning with the energy of having moved through the darkness more fully into the light.

While I love the sights and sounds of secular Christmas, truly I do, I realize that such an almost artificial sense of joy cannot really be sustained for long, nor does it feed us in moments when the darkness is brighter than the light. To quote again my friend Stephen King, “If a fear cannot be articulated, it can’t be conquered.” We can set aside that which scares and pains us, ignoring it and pretending it away. But it will always return to haunt us.  The only way to move past the darkness that threatens to overcome is to name it, allow it to wash over us, and then see that we are stronger on the other side of it.  The light is found only within the darkness. That is the lesson of Advent and Christmas.

Chris Adams is the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.