The world is always ending somewhere.
It’s always beginning somewhere, too…perhaps right in the same place.
This is a truth that thumps like a heartbeat beneath the rhythms of the Advent season. In early November, our lectionary readings begin to speak openly of a world that ends. The lectionary year itself dies a few weeks later, only to begin again on the same topic: endings, and the new beginnings that they create.
Many of our readings over these weeks belong to a scriptural genre called “apocalyptic.” It’s a good word, despite its tendency to evoke the imagery of a cataclysmic Second Coming. That’s not this one word’s fault: “Apocalypse” merely means “revelation.” Much of apocalyptic literature isn’t at all concerned with forecasting a final judgment. Rather, it’s obsessed with telling us the truth about what happens when God reveals Godself: the world as we know it ends.
When God’s nature, God’s truth, God’s will are unveiled, these are the kinds of things that end: power structures that oppress the marginalized; social sins that have gone unchallenged for too long; our untroubled, everyday existences. And because God has drawn near, and Divinity is unveiled, our distance from God ends too.
Apocalypse happens whenever and wherever what is dies in order to make room for what is God.
What do we do in the face of such revelation, the kind that ends old worlds and begins new ones all around us, every day, wherever God’s reign breaks into our lives?
Scripture offers one particular answer again and again: we shall sing.
Moses and Miriam sing on the shores of the Red Sea. Mary bursts into her canticle in front of her cousin Elizabeth’s house. Simeon’s song echoes through the Temple. Paul and Silas’ midnight prison sing-a-long literally brings down the house. When people sing about God’s revelation, the songs reverberate and rumble with dramatic endings and remarkable reversals — apocalypses everywhere.
So what shall we do in this season, as the texts draw us deeper into revelation, deeper into endings, deeper into the new beginnings ushered in by Christ’s advent?
We shall sing.
In this series, we look to global Christian songs and hymns to explore the revelations of our lectionary texts. This music brings us closer to the melody of justice sung in those first biblical canticles and arranges those melodies for our modern ears. It harmonizes our ancient texts and our contemporary stories. Each hymn or song offers an Advent proclamation for how we might prepare the way of the Lord.
“God Bless to Us Our Bread” urges: Stake a claim in the world.
“My Lord, What a Morning” asks: Tell of what is, and of what is possible.
“Come Now, O Prince of Peace” pleads: Persist in peace.
“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” warns: Mark the time.
“Freedom is Coming” insists: Stand between the already and the not-yet.
“When the Poor Ones” presses: Uproot greed and cultivate compassion.
“The Canticle of the Turning” demands: Rise up.
This is a songbook for our many apocalypses, wherever worldly structures are collapsing in the face of divine imagination: the one that’s whistling in your living room, the one that’s trumpeting in the local school district, the ones that are reverberating a thousand miles away in the lives of people you’ve never met. This is a songbook of a people of faith, a people who believe that the world is turning steadily toward justice. It sings of the hope and grief, the challenge and courage that we need when something dies in order for something else to be born.
Because the world is always ending somewhere—and beginning somewhere, too.
 Jan Richardson, “Blessing When the World Is Ending,” The Painted Prayerbook. July 18, 2016. https://paintedprayerbook.com/2016/07/18/blessing-when-the-world-is-ending/