I have attended two churches during this Advent season. One was in Florida while visiting my in-laws in the Orlando area; the other was back home in Pennsylvania. In both locations the pastors were preaching a series of sermons on the Book of Revelation. Did I miss the memo? Is this the year when pastors are supposed to preach apocalyptic advent messages?
My hometown Presbyterian pastor was doing a series entitled “An Apocalyptic Advent.” on the symbolic account of Christ’s birth in the twelfth chapter of Revelation. It was an intriguing trilogy of sermons and thematically appropriate for the season.
The Southern Baptist pastor’s series in Florida was not so appropriate. The Sunday I heard him, he was preaching on the end-times tribulation. Thankfully I missed the previous sermon on the pre-tribulation rapture. But I had the misfortune of singing Christmas carols and then hearing a sermon on the hatefulness of God.
I hesitate even to get into it … okay I will. He talked about God (or was it Satan? It was hard to tell the difference in his sermon) putting AIDS in the water supply (Yep, he actually said that HIV can be transmitted through drinking water!) and the MRSA bacteria in the air. (Yep!) He said that both were designed by God as horrible deaths to punish evildoers for their sin. A nice Christmas sentiment. Ho, ho, ho.
I was almost ready to walk out when he started to identify the mark of the Beast. I had to stay for that. Most pastors aren’t so audacious as to claim such inside knowledge.
Accompanied by digital images projected on the overhead screen, he demonstrated how the Hebrew letter waw was the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Waw is equivalent to the English W, therefore 666=WWW, the World Wide Web. Yep! The internet is evil. I was waiting for him to identify Mark Zuckerberg as the Antichrist!
I almost crunched up my bulletin and threw it at the preacher. I thought of rolling it into a tube to use it as a megaphone to boo this ridiculous exegesis. My wife, who had been eying my increasing restlessness throughout the sermon, gave me the eyeball and I relented.
Anyway, this has got me thinking about the relationship of Advent to apocalypse. Advent is a wonderful time to contemplate apocalyptic images. During Advent, the malls, homes and churches are filled with symbols and colors. Like in Revelation, the colors and symbols have spiritual meaning.
Furthermore, Advent comes at both the beginning and the end of the year. December is the end of the secular calendar year and the beginning of the Christian calendar. The annual celebration of Christ’s first coming reminds us that time is growing short for his second coming.
As the apostle wrote: “Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” He is coming soon. Come, Lord Jesus! Merry Maranatha!
Art is "The Crowned Virgin: A Vision of John" (Revelation 12:1-3), from the Bamberg Apocalypse, an 11th century richly illuminated manuscript.