Advent with Revelation (Ch 1)
November 27, 2022
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.


Advent with the Apocalypse of John



To spend Advent with the Book of Revelation may help restore the season’s orientation to the future coming of Christ in glory and judgment and not only his first coming at Christmas. “Advent has a twofold character. It is the season to prepare for Christmas, when Christ’s first coming is remembered, and it is the “season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. For these two reasons, the season of Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation. This twofold character is reflected in the two stages of Advent, each with its own special focus expressed in the corresponding preface of the eucharistic prayer. From the first Sunday to 16 December, the liturgy expresses the eschatological expectation of Advent, the watchfulness of God’s people looking forward to the time when Christ will come ‘again in glory and majesty, and ‘the salvation promised us will be ours.’ From 17 December until Christmas Eve, the texts proper to each day prepare us more directly to celebrate the Lord’s birth, ‘our hearts filled with wonder and praise.’” (ICEL; 1998)

The powerful imagery and strangeness of the Apocalypse can serve as an antidote to the sentimentality that so often clouds these weeks drawing our attention away from Advent’s serious and sobering challenge to prepare for that future through unswerving fidelity to Christ even during times of persecution and martyrdom. The twenty-two chapters of John’s Revelation fit perfectly in a season which, depending on the year, may comprise just that many days. Most of the time, however, a few days will remain in which to shift our focus to the Christ Child and the mystery of Incarnation.  Each post will comprise a whole chapter accompanied by a commentary (“lectio divina”) along with a piece of art (“visio divina”) and a musical selection (“audio divina”).

I am leaving the patristic and medieval commentators from last year and over the next few years will be turning to three contemporary authors: the Methodist biblical scholar Margaret Barker, the Russian Orthodox theologian Sergei Bulgakov and the Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.  We will begin with the latter, taking most commentary from Volume IV of his Theo-Drama (The Action), the five volumes of which comprise the middle portion of his great trilogy. As with last year’s series, I hope these daily posts with their art, music and commentary will help free the season of Advent from a focus on the past event of Christ’s birth and redirect our attention to these weeks as an anticipation of the Lord’s Second Advent at the end of time when all God’s promises will be fulfilled in a “new heaven and new earth.” 

Chapter 1 (First Sunday of Advent)

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near. 

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
   every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
   and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen. 

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. 

I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.’ 

Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. 

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. 


Revelation comes from God. As the opening words of the Book of Revelation say, it is given to Jesus Christ, who, by means of his angel, shows it to his servant John and, through him, to his other servants (1:1). Thus there can be no doubt that Jesus Christ, who will designate himself the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, stands at the center of events. This does not mean, however, that the “time” referred to begins with his presence on earth. The Old Covenant is present not only in reminiscence or fulfillment (and overfulfillment) but in its own figures and words. For of the twenty-four elders before God’s throne, twelve belong surely to the Old and twelve to the New Covenant; seraphim and cherubim, proclaiming their Trisagion, appear in a form that unites both Covenants. Here we find Temple, altar and the Holy of Holies. But dominant throughout is the sheer juxtaposition (typical of the Old Testament) of pure penal justice and the vision of a reality transfigured. And this in spite of the fact that the Christ-event is always presupposed as something that has taken place, not something still in the future. For example, let us take Ezekiel’s vision in which an angel takes burning coals from God’s fiery chariot and casts them upon Jerusalem, setting it on fire (Ezek 10:2), and compare it with the scene in Revelation in which an angel takes the censer containing the prayers of the saints, fills it with fire from the heavenly altar and throws it onto the earth, causing thunder and loud noises, lightning and earthquake (8:5); it is clear that the actuality of the first event is wholly preserved in the second. And this in spite of the fact—again—that the work of Christ has been accomplished, in the midst of time, valid for time past and for all future time. We must hold fast to the paradox that goes right through this book: Christ’s completed work gives him power to break the seal of world history and unveil it; yet this very opening of the seal brings about a growing sense of fear and foreboding as the end of time approaches. It is not even clear whether the salvific effects of Christ’s death become somehow latent in order to allow the aspect of pure judgment to move into center-stage, or whether this salvific efficacy itself summons the opposing powers to the battlefield for a final decisive conflict. Both aspects are present; there can be no doubt that the second aspect predominates from chapter onward. Ultimately the Book of Revelation, coming after all the other books of the New Testament, remains what it is: a window into the ever-greater world of God, which defies all attempts at systematization on our part. Jesus Christ is the Beginning and the End; he has the keys of death and the underworld: people are apt to infer from this that, in the end, no one can be lost. But this is precisely what we are shown, from the case of Babylon to that of the beasts and their adherents. “[John] has to allow both truths to coexist within him, although at no point do they seem to converge.”

Musical Selection

Lo! He comes with clouds descending, Once for favoured sinners slain; Thousand thousand saints attending, Swell the triumph of His train: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God appears on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold Him Robed in dreadful majesty; Those who set at naught and sold Him, Pierced and nailed Him to the tree, Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, Shall the true Messiah see. 

The dear tokens of His passion Still His dazzling body bears; Cause of endless exultation To His ransomed worshippers; With what rapture, with what rapture Gaze we on those glorious scars! 

Yea, amen; let all adore thee, High on thine eternal throne; Saviour, take the power and glory; Claim the kingdoms for thine own: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.


God of majesty and power,

amid the clamour of our violence
your Word of truth resounds;
upon a world made dark by sin
the Sun of Justice casts his dawning rays.
Keep your household watchful
and aware of the hour in which we live.
Hasten the advent of that day
when the sounds of war will be for ever stilled,
the darkness of evil scattered,
and all your children gathered into one.
We ask this through him whose coming is certain,
whose day draws near:
your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen.

(Collects are taken from the 1998 edition of the Roman Missal: Sacramentary prepared by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy)