“Advent is disruptive.”
My pastor said these words in a recent sermon, and they have haunted me since. If I were to think about adjectives to describe Advent, I might come up with a list of words like peaceful, joyful, hopeful, calm. But disruptive? Surely not.
And, yet, the more my pastor explained, the more I understood. Advent is not just a season of calm before the festive storm of Christmas. It is, in fact, a disruption—a disruption of our routines, of our busy schedules, of our constant hurry and worry.
Advent is a blessed disruption in a troubled world
Most of us can look back over the last few years and see the things that went wrong (even the most optimistic among us can’t draw a silver lining thick enough to contain Covid). The Thomas fire and devastating mudslides in Santa Barbara happened just four short years ago. Racial tension has come to the forefront of our politics and our social interactions. Violence seems ever-present in our world. There is much to mourn.
But in the midst of all that has gone wrong, in the heavy moments we feel deeply the fear and pain of a fallen world, there comes a blessed disruption—Advent.
Advent disrupts bleakness with grandeur
One of my favorite poems is “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manly Hopkins. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do (and if you want someone who has spent entirely too much time thinking about this poem to help you understand it, you know where to find me). I’m about to go full poetry nerd on you, but stick with me.
“God’s Grandeur” is an Italian sonnet. Like all sonnets, it is 14 lines of iambic pentameter. Unlike its more popular relative, the English sonnet, the Italian sonnet is broken into two parts: the octave (the first eight lines) and the sestet (the last six lines). The octave presents a problem or sets a heavier tone, while the sestet offers a solution or change in tone; this change is referred to as the volta (Italian for “turn”), the moment where the original emotion or plot is disrupted and replaced with something more hopeful.
In Hopkins’ poem, the octave describes the many ways in which the world is “seared, bleared, smeared” with man’s work, and that the earth “shares man’s smudge and wears man’s smell.” A bleak picture of a fallen world indeed, especially considering the Industrial Era in which Hopkins wrote and lived. At the volta, however, Hopkins offers hope: “And for all this, nature is never spent;/there lives the dearest, freshness, deep down things” (9-10).
What provides this assurance of dear and fresh life below the seemingly charred surface? Human effort? Ingenuity? Education? Technology? No. It is simply and gloriously because “the Holy Ghost over the bent/World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wing” (13-14). Bent here has two meanings: the literal curve of the horizon, but also the brokenness of our world—things metaphorically “bent” out of the shape originally intended, bent and surrounded by darkness. Here, against this seeming hopelessness, Hopkins paints a picture of a tender mother bird, keeping her children warm with her wings stretched over them, protecting them by offering her own self against the darkness.
Advent is an ah! moment
I think that interjection, that “ah!”, is what my pastor meant when he said that Advent is disruptive. We are far too much at risk for moving through time on autopilot, always moving forward, always trying to create our own happiness, always trying to overcome the world, when, in reality, Christ has overcome the world for us. He has been and is victorious over death, decay, and deceit. This side of eternity, the darkness is still there, but a loving Protector prevents the darkness from overtaking His children.
As our world turns madly on, let this season be disruptive to your fears; let it disrupt your rhythms. May our souls magnify and sing over the glory of our great God. May he bless us with “Ah!” moments as we find our rest in the Savior who hears the cries of the oppressed and the hopeless, who came incarnate to offer light in the darkness, and who will come again to reign as King.