Many of us have become news junkies. And leads to a certain amount of doomscrolling… moving from one story to another, compiling a catalogue of the many reasons there are to be depressed: the war in Ukraine; the horrifying events in Israel and Gaza; the crisis in North American democracy; the latest foolish or frightening utterance by a public figure. Doomscrolling is a hard habit to break. Despair, whether personal or political, has a way of feeding on itself.
Which is one of the reasons we need Advent. The great texts of Advent: the testimony of John the Baptist; Isaiah’s glad tidings of Israel’s deliverance; Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse in Mark 13 — all of these summon us to abandon our doomscrolling in favour of a proper – of real Christian hope. Advent gives us permission to notice the darkness without giving in to it. Advent calls us to let our imaginations be shaped by our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming, rather than by the unending 24-hour news cycle.
Advent offers us the good news that this world and all that is wrong in it will be judged. Fleming Rutledge wrote that the “purpose of this seven-week season [her Advent includes the final three weeks of the Christian calendar] is to take an unflinching inventory of darkness.” Yes, er notice the darkness, and we remember that God is coming to judge this world of ours, to hold the evildoers of history accountable for their wicked deeds.
That word rolls easily off our lips when it is applied to others, but Rutledge reminds us that a central theme of Advent is repentance. We are the ones whose lives will be laid bare by the judgment of Christ. Paul addresses the church in Thessalonica as “children of the light and children of the day.”
As children of the day, we stand first in line at the bar of judgment by repenting of our sins, the sins of the whole church and the sins of the whole world. We are involved in each other because God was first involved in us. “We love, because he first loved us.”[1 John 4:19]
As a teacher and pastor, I often say that there is no theological work in our day more important than that of being a Bible teacher, and no aspect of being a Bible teacher more important than loving God. Beyond any technical skills and resources, I remind us and I tell my students in Uganda and Ethiopia, that our “primary need” is to “be in love with God.”
One of the major themes of Advent is HOPE, but hope is empty apart from this primary need to LOVE. The hope we have in Christ is not just the expectation that something will occur, but the anticipation of the coming of a Someone.
One of my favourite Advent hymns is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” a paraphrase of the medieval “O” Antiphons set to the tune of a 15th-century French processional. These musical expressions give powerful voice to a longing for God, in the midst of the world’s darkness.
“We love because he first loved us.”
We love by loving the God who has first loved us.
We love by abandoning our hopeless doomscrolling, casting out fear in favour of the one who loves us and will set everything right.
We love by loving our neighbour, in the daily messes that is life in a world standing under the divine love and the divine promise of redemption.
We do not need our love to be perfect to begin.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.