The assigned reading for the beginning of Advent season for Christians around the world doesn’t start with scenes of a baby being born in a manger.

It starts with the end of the world:

"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. ...So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."

When Advent begins, I always hear Michael Stipe & R.E.M.’s "It’s the End of the World As We Know (And I Feel Fine)." But there’s also an ancient Christian vision for what the end of the world looks like:

"I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’"

That’s straight out of the book of Revelation — Chapter 7 to be exact. This is the vision of John the Revelator. A man exiled to an island called Patmos. A place where the Roman Empire sent the seditious ones to die. Sort of like Robben Island. Sort of like Siberia. Sort of like … well, you get the point.

It is an odd way to start off the most wonderful season of the year.

If this is your first Advent, or if it has been awhile, let me catch you up. Advent is the season of expectant waiting before Christmas. It’s a time to wake up, slow down, sit still, listen, and wait. A kind of expected, engaged waiting, with one another. And the first Sunday of Advent  —  celebrated on the four Sundays before Christmas  —  always starts with apocalyptic end-of-world scenarios.

Again, an odd way to start. But I think there is wisdom in it. The ancients saw fit to remind us of the harried, violent world into which the Christ child was born. Which, if we are honest, is also like the world in which we find ourselves.

Violence, brokenness, and heartache can take many forms. Each of us experience the heartache of recent weeks. Maybe it was a year-long affair; or Paris; or a lost job; or mass gun violence; or depression; or Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Ill.; or Garret Swasey in Colorado Springs, Colo.

We have a lot to reflect on as we begin the most wonderful time of the year.

What is it you are waiting for? What is it you are hoping gives birth in your life or the world?

Let’s lean in and wait, expectantly.

This post originally appeared at Medium.

Adam Nicholas Phillips is founding pastor of Christ Church: Portland, an open, active and inclusive community.

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