Reading: Revelation 4
Advent Theme: Praise
Let us return, briefly, to the concept of apocalyptic literature. Within this genre, the metaphors are never straight lines, as in A is used to described B. Instead, apocalyptic literature takes metaphor A and using it to describe what it would be like to braid hockey sticks and oranges. Wait, what? (Read it again.) The metaphors borrow from images that readers or hearers know and then combine them in a way that almost defies imagination. Thus, with a charged imagination and a small amount of heightened anxiety, the writer drives the audience back to a simpler concept that, ideally, they should be able to understand.
Therefore, as we kayak the river of John’s revelation, don’t attempt to hang out in the rapids of his extreme metaphors. All it will do is spin you around and make you dizzy, providing little spiritual food and much mental frustration. Instead, let the current of the Holy Spirit carry you through the text, help you note the complex scenery, but bring you to the slower waters of the plain meaning of the text.
“Plain meaning” is a phrase that comes from the early years of the (German) Reformation. Martin Luther and others asserted that descriptions in the Bible were meant to be accessible to people in every age. He was thinking in particular of the effort to complicate the parables in the gospels, making each and every aspect of the parable mean something that couldn’t reasonably be discerned from the text. When we come to Revelation, the plain meaning must be restricted to what we can clearly understand.
In our devotional reading, we look for how God is acting in the story and how God might want us to respond. In historical reading, we might use additional information to see how symbols of Rome- like dragons, the color red, or the seal of the emperor- were used during that time or look up how Christians in Asia were being treated at the end of the first century. In a literary reading, we would notice how the writer stirs up anxiety and soothes it, noting themes and recurring phrases. There is more that one way to correctly and spiritually use and learn from the written word.
What does this have to do with today’s reading? First, GOOD WORK for making it to Day 5! I’m proud of you! As we move ahead, this is where the book can really start to feel overwhelming, but remember the river metaphor. You and the Holy Spirit have got this!
As John begins to describe the scene in heaven, do not break down each aspect of the picture. We could, and people have, assign meaning to every single number and every single color. We could use Ezekiel, who has a very similar image of heaven (Ez. 1 and 10), and Daniel and parts of other books and hammer out exactly what we thinkJohn meant. That level of interpretation is possible, but not necessarily beneficial and may also not be truthful based on John’s intentions.
So, the images of the animals, the crowned elders, and the throne give us a scene of heaven as a source of power and majesty. There are creatures beyond imagining and powerful leaders and natural elements- all of which yield to the power that is on the throne. From that throne comes life, creativity, and mercy. The heavenly throne has nothing in common with any throne that appears on earth. The correct response to this power and majesty is worship and praise.
Potential takeaway: The only book of the Bible that offers more phrase and images to Christian worship music and liturgy than Revelation is Psalms. The words of countless communion settings, stanzas of favorite hymns, phrases of needlepoint plaques, and the scenes of centuries of paintings come straight from John’s revelation. No hymn writer, painter, liturgist, or preacher can claim truthfully claim to understand all that is contained in this book. Yet, we cannot stay away because its mystery presses us toward the parts we do understand: the importance of worship, the need for community, the power of God. Can you let go of the need to comprehend every detail and just look at the bigger picture of the book?
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. Holy, holy, holy is the God who sits on a throne of power and yet comes to us as a helpless infant. Holy, holy, holy is the God who brought all things into being and yet permits us to be co-creators in the midst of it. Holy, holy, holy is the God whose everlasting arms provide shelter, rest, and strength for all of our days. Amen.