A brilliantly prophetic article by David Brooks helped explain how some evangelical Christians have been able to deny so many long-held Biblical values to support Donald Trump and Roy Moore. But it also defined one of the factors that is driving so much of the animosity and polarization that plagues our current culture. I encourage you to read it here.
Reading Brooks this week spoke to me about why we need to pay attention to Advent before rushing headlong into Christmas.
The Siege Mentality
Brooks diagnosed a “siege mentality” that grows out of “a sense of collective victimhood.” It’s a feeling that “the whole world is irredeemably hostile” resulting in a pervasive pessimism. He concluded that “the siege mentality floats on apocalyptic fear.”
Don’t miss the adjective “apocalyptic.” The biblical word means “uncover.” It reveals what we believe the future will be. The “siege mentality” assumes that everything is going from bad to worse and results in a self-righteous confidence that “we are the holy remnant.”
“The siege mentality also excuses the leader’s bad behavior. When our very existence is on the line we can’t be worrying about things like humility, sexual morality, honesty and basic decency. In times of war all is permissible. Even molesting teenagers can be overlooked because our group’s survival is at stake.”
The Siege Mentality in Scripture
When we bypass Advent to leap directly to Christmas, we miss reading scriptures that reflect the very real fears and frustrations of our time. You can hear the “siege mentality” in the lectionary Psalm for the 1st Sunday in Advent.
Shepherd of Israel, listen!
You, the one who leads Joseph as if he were a sheep.
You, who are enthroned upon the winged heavenly creatures.
Wake up your power!
Come to save us!
Restore us, God!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved! (Psalm 80:1-3)
It’s in the background of the Old Testament reading from Isaiah:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence… to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! (Isaiah 64:1-2)
Bypassing Advent to rush on to Bethlehem, we miss Jesus’ apocalyptic vision: “They will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.” And we fail to hear his challenge:
Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:35-37)
Everything depends on what we believe is coming. What’s our apocalyptic vision? What do we most deeply believe, not only about what the world is coming to, but about what is coming to the world?
The Advent scriptures lift our eyes beyond the present moment to the promise of the day when God’s salvation revealed in Jesus will be fulfilled for the whole creation.
The message of Advent counters our fear of the future with confident hope. It invites us to prepare not only to remember Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, but to live in anticipation of his final victory over every power of injustice, violence, suffering, sin and death. It challenges us to live now in ways that are consistent with the way the world will be when “the kingdoms of this earth become the Kingdom of our God and his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever.”
With that hope, we face all the very real challenges of our time not as victims, but as victors; not on the basis of our fears but our faith; not as a “holy remnant” that is under siege from the powers of evil, but as ordinary people who participate with God in the extraordinary work that God is doing to redeem, save, heal and restore this broken, bruised, conflict-ridden creation. In that confidence, we can relate to other people not out of the scars of our hurts, but in the strength of our healing.
The Advent vision is picked up in many of traditional carols, including “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, you men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.
Christmas is coming, sure enough. And just as sure is the promise of the coming of God’s reign of love, justice and peace. We live in hope!
May an Advent of hope lead us to a joyful Christmas!