Advent proclaims the end and the beginning

Published 3:50 pm Friday, December 1, 2023

When I was about 15 years old, my buddy and I had what most would consider a bad idea. We found a box that could double as a sign if holes were cut for arms and a head. Guess what? We cut those holes, I put on the box, and my buddy took a can of black spray paint and wrote with letters as large as he could, “The End is Near!” Feeling good about our work, we determined it was time to put the sign to good use. We drove to the mall in Rocky Mount where I slipped our apocalyptic sign over my head and began walking up and down Benvenue Avenue, one of the busiest roads in town.

I can’t remember every angry face or the sound of every angry voice, but there was one person who is, even still, burned into my brain: a 70-year old woman driving a red Buick, shouting from the top of her lungs with her middle finger waving furiously out of her window. It appears she wasn’t a fan of our message.

I can’t really blame her, though. Nobody wants to be told the end is near. Nobody wants to hear from a doomsaying prophet when they just need a new pair of shoes from Belk. Not that I was a prophet of anything at 15 years old, but I trust you’ll get the point. Something was triggered within that woman by the meaningless prank of two bored teenagers. Something was stirred up, and the cognitive dissonance she experienced came rushing out as an unintentionally funny display of rage.

In the Episcopal Church, as well as other Christian traditions, this Sunday begins the season of Advent. Contrary to what late-stage capitalism has told and sold us, Advent doesn’t start on December 1 every year, and it’s not a primarily a time to eat little chocolates as we count down the days until Santa Claus opens his wondrous bag of gifts and places them under the tree. Side note: I love Santa Claus, chocolates, and everything that a capitalism-infused Christmas brings out year after year. I love those things, but I can’t let them distract me from what Advent is all about.

In Advent, my doomsaying prophecy comes true. The end is near. Not just the end of the year, but in a deeper sense, Advent represents the end of the old way of doing business in the world. It represents an affront to all the death and destruction the world gives us. Advent arrives and announces, through Scripture and song, that the old world is ending. It’s done. It’s over. The ref has counted to three, the bell’s been rung, and God has proclaimed that the world order of destruction and horror is being cast down.

But Advent doesn’t just proclaim an ending. It also proclaims a beginning. The world as it is doesn’t have to remain that way. The world can be better than it was yesterday. But first we must believe that it can be better. We must believe that the horror we see won’t define us in the end. Advent calls us to a time of deep self-reflection, to think about who we are and how we are or are not doing our part to make this world more beautiful, more loving, and more just. The end is near, at least it feels like that lately. But the beginning is near too. It’s within you. Will you do something, even just one thing, to make this fragile earth more beautiful than it was yesterday?

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