Friday, 11 November 2016

Revelation before Advent: introduction

I'm going to read the book of Revelation chapter-by-chapter daily between today and the start of Advent (Sunday 27th November). This post explains why, as I intend to blog each day's reading and reflections.

First (and this is the church-insider answer), there's a long church tradition in reading Revelation in the run-up to Advent - not necessarily the whole book, but perhaps parts of it. The first Sunday of Advent is the start of the church year, the beginning of a new season, and the time when we consider the coming of Christ. This makes it relevant to consider the end times before we look at the new times, and Revelation is a book that does both these things. Advent, as any liturgical purist will tell you, is about as much about the second coming of Christ as it is a preparation for Christmas. There's an excellent blog post by Rev. Erik Parker on why Advent matters so much. Now, I don't come from a church background which has rules about these things - I grew up in a tradition (Church of Scotland) that de-emphasised the church calendar, spent 15 years in one that explicitly rejected it (Quakers) and am now in one (United Reformed Church) where it's observed rather patchily. But actually I like the church calendar and find it a helpful rhythm. So there's an answer from tradition.
Image: Hieronymous Bosch, Saint John on Patmos, via Wikipedia

But this year is different. By almost any measure, 2016 feels like a year of disasters: bombings in Belgium and France, ongoing awfulness in Syria, a British MP murdered in her consistuency, murders at a gay nightclub in Florida - the list goes on. But worse things still: in Britain we've had Brexit, in the US a deeply divisive and nasty election ultimately won by Donald Trump - both times won by a narrow margin following a campaign full of half-truths, but where the victors seem determined to make the maximum from their success. Dark things have been shown by these events - racism, sexism, unwillingness to trust others, violence, divisiveness. If not exactly the end-times, then it feels like a really unpleasant time to be living through.

And that's the theme of Revelation. Earlier in the year I preached a sermon on the book of Daniel, and read and thought about apocalyptic literature, to which both books belong. It appears to be a prophecy about the future, but it's really about the present times - when the book was written, and just possibly now. It's a very complex book, full of imagery and metaphor. As one biblical commentator says, many readers "associate it with eccentric and even dangerous sects addicted to millenarian fantasy". It's a strange book. But I've valued the time I've spent with it, and I've wanted for a while to spend more time with the book.

So: one or two chapters (there are 16 days left before Advent, and 22 chapters) per day, and hopefully a blog post about what I'm finding. Wish me luck!

Links to individual chapters, updated each day:
ch 1, the gift of prophecy
ch 2+3, John blogs to seven churches
ch 4, John before the throne of God
ch 5, Song to the Lamb
ch 8+9, angels, trumpets & disasters

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