02 December 2019

What is Advent for us today?

"In the early days of the church, the faithful believed that the end times were just around the corner. But they never came. Two thousand years seems a long time to wait for something imminent. So how long do we have to wait and for what? 
If the Gospel writers thought the end was near, they were clearly wrong. Christ seems to have missed his deadline. And, like waiting for a friend in a cafĂ©, waiting for a bus in the rain, we check our watches, drum our fingers, and prepare ourselves for disappointment. 
Sometimes, it feels that the waiting in Advent is a bit fake; as though Advent is a ritualised vestige of the time when we waited with true expectation for Christ to come and fulfil all things. Ritualised in Advent calendars and in Advent wreaths, candles lit, doors opened. Ritualised, because in our hearts we know it will not be now, it will not be soon. 
Waiting for Justice to arrive for many seems a long wait. For the ravaged and broken people of Syria, the mountain of the Lord seems very far away. There are no ploughshares left in a land which has more craters than fields of grain. 
For those bereaved, wounded and traumatised by the events on London Bridge on Friday, the mountain of the Lord is a long way from the dark valley they walk through. For those affected by climate change, justice seems to ebb further away, as the waters rise and the hurricane destroys their land and their homes. 
For those who suffer because of their gender or their sexuality or their race, they find that justice is not something they can afford to wait for, because while they wait, they are persecuted, oppressed, broken by an unjust world. 
That is not the waiting we are called to do in Advent, a passive hanging around until God gets his act together. There is no place in scripture where God gives us the indulgence of helpless passivity. If we throw up our hands in despair and ask God how he can let these things happen, the answer in the Gospels comes back clear and strong, that God has in fact given the hungry all that they need to be well fed, he has given the persecuted all that they need to receive justice, he has given the war-torn all that they need to find peace - because he has given them us. He has given them us, and what we wait for in Advent is for the Spirit of God to take us over, to fill us with such compassion that we have to act, because we cannot bear to see so many in such pain. 
The presence of God makes us discontented with a world which should be like the Kingdom of God, but isn’t. The presence of God makes us hungry for justice and hungry for an end to starvation, and corruption, and war. The presence of God calls us not to be content with the world as it is. The presence of God gives us courage to walk the hard road of making change. 
And when we try and change the world, the world may not like it, just as in Jesus' own time. We will be resisted, and sometimes we will be rejected, which is why of course we throw our hands up in despair and declare we can't do anything. The fact is we can. But it might hurt. 
Because to change the world, as Isaiah said, means we have to put down our most cherished weapons, we have to abandon and unlearn the paths we have trod into a world we do not like, we have to remove ourselves from the comfortable myopia that indolence and isolation bring. Advent is where we wait for something that will change us, even though we may be frightened by the change."

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