The revelatory apocalypse of Advent is happening all around us. Everywhere, worlds are ending in the quiet way the widow of Zarephath’s might have. The end is near — perpetually — for so many.
The double meaning we find here does more than simply demonstrate just some mild poetic confusion about a hymn (or elucidate the trickiness of deploying a homonym in the oral-aural atmosphere of the worship environment). I believe it also elucidates a deeper tension at the heart of the Christian faith.
What if peace–the process–isn’t very peaceful at all? What if peace leads us into recognizing the ways in which we are caught in systems that keep us trapped in feedback loops of violence, violence against bodies, minds, souls, nations, creation?
Planetary bodies, sunlight, nighttime, seasons: these are signs of time that God controls, not you. Signs that you cannot change, because God sets them. Signs that you must only watch for. “Be alert at all times,” Jesus instructs. God will use the signs to tell you, on God’s time, that … it’s time.
The song “Freedom is Coming” triumphantly declares a transformation that is both happening and not yet fully realized. As a freedom-song of the South African anti-apartheid movement, and eventually a freedom-song sung throughout the world, “Freedom is Coming” is all about helping people to imagine something that can be but isn’t yet.
Fruited and unfruited trees both grow within each of us, and John’s urgency is not directed toward certain individuals, but toward everyone, calling us all to reveal to ourselves the patterns of behavior, habits of thought, and spiritual practices that undergird our daily choices.
The effortless speed and lyrical density of “Canticle of the Turning” remind us that the very choice to live in Advent hope is an act of brinkmanship that rivals Mary’s own. In this last week of the season, there is no better time to enjoy the adrenaline rush of irrational faith.