(written for Christ Church magazine)
Advent is a season of hope and expectancy, yet our Sunday readings will include much about impending disaster, the imminence of the end of time and judgement. Is this a contradiction? No.
This is for two reasons.
Firstly, judgment and disaster serve to focus thought and life on where humankind has gone wrong, with the accompanying possibility that we might make some corrections and put things right.
Secondly, the end times not only conclude our rather weak attempts to sort ourselves out, but also bring in the reign of God, the Big Sorter. That I see as hopeful, because we need all the help we can get.
Visits to mediaeval cathedrals will often bring us face to face with some rather gruesome images of God’s judgment. The weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth clearly sparked the imaginations of twelfth century artists. Yet it would appear that the graphic threat was not enough to counter the human tendency to mess things up, nor persuade a return to faith in God. Human life seems to have continued in a pattern throughout history.
In our own time, as in others, the images are very much the reality for many. We don’t have to search far to discover the weeping and the wailing. Earthquake and storm have devastated Haiti and the surrounding Caribbean more than once. TV coverage from the US gives us pictures of both deep flood and raging fire destroying vast swathes and leaving thousands crying out for help. And at the ballot box there is uncertainty regarding who might best be trusted for salvation.
For those of us who are simply puzzled by changes in the weather and perhaps a little troubled by a melting Arctic, rising temperatures and rising tides, what is our response? We insulate our homes and buy more efficient cars and perhaps shop for more sustainable products. There is an increasing willingness to acknowledge that human life- style at least contributes to impending catastrophe. What is most troubling is that we tend to believe that we can put it all right again through our own, rather inadequate, efforts.
There is an arrogance in the assumption that we can work out our own salvation.
If my car broke down because it had not been regularly maintained I know that for me to say ‘Don’t worry, I’ll sort it’ would not be the solution and, indeed, my inadequacies would soon be revealed! Similarly, we need to acknowledge that the world will not be put to rights if it is left to the human race. We need God. We need his Saviour. Why do we find it so hard to acknowledge our need and seek his way?
As we move through our Advent preparations may we ensure that we put our lives in the right perspective. Yes God calls us to make his ways real in our everyday lives, such that greed and selfishness are set aside to allow all a fair share of the riches of the earth. Yes we are given some clear indications when we mess up. Yes we need Jesus to put us on track, forgiving the past and enabling the way for the Holy Spirit to guide our future.
So then we can truly celebrate Christ’s coming into our lives, not as seasonal fun or sentimental interlude, but as essential ingredient and Lord!
Have a blessed Christmas and hopeful New Year ……