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Advent is supposed to be apocalyptic, not cozy. The total lack of subtlety and symbolic imagination in the American mind is a deadly impairment to Christian faith.

In the dying of each year, days grow darker, nights grow longer, the sun and the human heart grow colder. That's why the liturgical readings are all from the Prophets and Revelation. Traditionally at this time of the year, Christians look for the return of Christ and the total regeneration of the world. Today, however, Hallmark has trained Christians to look only for the birth of Baby Jesus, and Capitalism the coming of Santa Claus. Talk about confusing the gift with the giver.

The Revelation to St. John lays the cycle of waiting bare. As “the seven angels” wrap up their unmaking of the physical world, a new reality descends to take its place:

Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. – Revelation 22:1-2 (RSV-CE)

In any pre-modern text, cycles of seven and twelve are inescapable because, before Industrialization, human awareness was governed by the sky. When we planted. When we reaped. When we bore our children or sent them off to war. Before the light bulb and chronometer, time was a function of the movement of planets (7) against the fixed constellations of the zodiac (12) through which the sun proceeded, month after month, world without end.

Here, John describes the Christian mystery revealed in the night sky, wrapped in all the richness of the Hellenistic symbolic imagination. The seven planetary intelligences governing pagan fate are in actuality seven angels serving God as his demolition team. Rubble cleared from their cosmic construction site, a celestial city descends, through which a river bright as crystal (the Milky Way) runs, straddled by a tree of life, producing twelve kinds of fruit, each in its month (the constellations of the zodiac).

Through John's visionary eyes, we see the dome of the night sky as a great tree bower sheltering us from horizon to horizon. The tree of life and the great river from God's original Paradise are restored, this time at the heart of a new polis instead of a garden.

This is the second coming. This is the new creation: apocastasis, with all the signs of the zodiac reset, balanced, and on equal footing. Now, all the heavenly powers of the night sky (“the leaves of the tree”) serve a benevolent God and the Lamb. Instead of the vagaries of fate, the stars now ray forth “for the healing of the nations.” Christ, the Lamb of God, born into time, permeates the world like yeast in dough, rising.

This is the reality for which we yearn, that the Incarnation makes possible. A world fully, elementally alive:

Let the sea make a noise, and all that therein is; the round world, and they that dwell therein.

Let the floods clap their hands, and let the hills be joyful together before the Lord. – Psalm 98:8-9 (Coverdale)

As the world and its nights once more approach their darkest, surely, we cry, this is the season everything becomes new at last. Surely this time, it is for real and for always. Surely, surely, the wait is over.

The solstice, and Christmas, comes.


We hope, we pray it's finally the birth of a new kingdom. Until it is, we hold onto the birth of a new king as the wheel turns once more.

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1965, 1966 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.