From the Lectionaries
by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
The Daily Office: Monday in Advent 2
7 December 2009
At Evening Prayer today we start again a course reading of the first six chapters of Revelation, known also as The Apocalypse, ending on Saturday before Advent 4. The reading underlines one of the themes of this season: we move toward meeting the Judge at the end of time while we move toward meeting the Baby on December 25. Is it any wonder that we tend to focus on the Baby whilst putting out of our minds the Judge? Who can resist a Baby? Who’s eager to meet the Judge?
Even subtler reasons may lie behind some hesitance to take up again the last book of the Bible. Twenty-five years ago a fine preacher told me he had never preached on Revelation and, if God were good, he never would have to do it. Revelation abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism. It recounts visions in symbolic and allegorical language. Its literary mode, apocalyptic, may be less accessible than other modes much more familiar: narrative history, narrative fiction, lyrical poetry, songs of praise, proverbs, prophecy, and parable. And the conventions of apocalyptic may be too set, too hardly formal to allow our imaginations to consider it a mode of literary expression as complexly interpretable as those other literary modes.
We may have matured to know that symbolic descriptions are not to be taken as literal descriptions, and we may have learned that the symbolism may not best be imagined realistically. Since they are literary devices, the lurid descriptions of the punishment of Jezebel and of the destruction of the great harlot, Babylon, we may already know not to interpret them literally or see them as exact and unalterable correspondences to Rome or Russia.
We may know all of these things, and many more, and still be hesitant to make our way through the book once again. Hesitation is understandable. But still there is something in Revelation for us, still something I look for in each reading from it.
Revelation is positioned in time after all the December 25ths, after even the appearance of the Judge. The action of Revelation takes place after Christ defeats Satan and his cohorts who, without knowing it, carry out their part in the divine plan that always ends with the Lamb on his throne.
In the face of evidently extreme evil, plagues, and famines, God’s promises endure. Facing adversity and injustice, striving in the midst of prejudice and disease, Christians remaining faithful and confident in the risen Lord have no need to fear and no reason the be ashamed. Suffering, persecution, systemic failure, and deprivation all will be robbed of their evident power in the end. The Christian life ends well. Revelation gives hope.