Preaching Radical and Orthodox brings together sermons from of the leading proponents of Radical Orthodoxy, including Stanley Hauerwas, Graham Ward and John Milbank. Structured around the church year, the book views the seasons through the lens of Radical Orthodox preaching.
With the beginning of the Advent season just days away, we thought it would be apt to offer an extract from the book. In the following brief essay which introduces the section on Advent, editors Alison Milbank, John Hughes and Arabella Milbank consider the work of Advent preaching.
Preaching as a sacramental act is already a reordering of time, in which the saving acts of God are made present and available to the listener. When the liturgical cycle begins in Advent we start the new life, against the dictates of the secular calendar, in the old year, commencing with this the re-establishment of God’s time as our primary medium of experience. A parody of Advent theology awaits reclamation in the already/not yet of secular commercial anticipation: the Christmas Spice latte in late October, and beyond December 25th only a Boxing Day Sale of Judgement when the value of the gift receipts is made all too plain. Unlike the secular version where the tinselled festivity, referring to no higher good or indeed further time, offers as its climax only more of the same, Advent’s urgent expectancy works with the natural coloration of time as the year descends into the wild darkness of the December days prior to the solstice.
Advent confronts merely linear time with a complex yet sustaining layering of different but complementary cycles of temporal experience, which Cyril of Jerusalem describes vividly:
There is a birth from God before the ages,
And a birth from a virgin at the fullness of time.
There is a hidden coming, like that of rain on fleece,
And a coming before all eyes, still in the future.
The believer holds together the awaiting of the incarnate God’s arrival at Christmas, the birthing in her own heart like the dew on the fleece given as a sign to Gideon, and the final arrival at the eschaton. In the first awaiting, the believers also recapitulate the history of the people of Israel as they look for the promised Saviour. Time and history is narrated as it points to Christ, and we are invited to reach across temporal divisions, and against the economic values given to time, to reclaim our own time’s eternal value as part of this story.
The richness of this temporal unfolding is lost when the second coming is underplayed, as so often in contemporary preaching. Only with that final reality can evil be held to account, and our resurrection life be asserted. Only with imminence is immanence realized, Christ’s coming as fully historical from Judea to judgement. In the Advent promise, past, present and future offer God to us, and the preacher has to unite them in a proclamation that has John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary as hinges. Like John, we look back to Isaiah and the coming Day of the Lord, and call people to repent; like Mary we reach into that past to find the resources to open ourselves to the salvific horizon.
The important work of Advent preaching, then, is to flow with the richness of the lectionary readings and hymns that inhabit this triple temporality, and offer the paradox of the ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ as a temporality that is also gift: where we find all the time we need. It can and must be, especially in this season of the Last Things, truly parousiac – as Henri de Lubac puts it, drawing on patristic tradition: ‘preaching is the white horse of the apocalypse’, in which the preacher brings his or her auditors to a sense of the crisis of Christ’s presence. Our sermons in this section are examples of this offering of temporality as open to the fullness of the Parousia, when time will flower from the apparent circles and lines of our experience into the spiralling heavenly rose of Paradise, in which all our lives will be enfolded.