Advent Sunday 2019 , Isaiah 2, 1-5; Romans 13, 11-end; Matthew 24, 36-44)
Canon Leonard Doolan
Even the most casual observer of events on the world stage must realize that, in rather biblical language, ‘the nations are in uproar’. For months now we have seen the deep discontent of the people of Hong Kong spilling out on to the streets of the city. In South America a number of political leaders have fallen from favour recently. In the city of Nazaria in Iraq there are many deaths of civilians as the Iraqi people react to corruption in high places and the lack of jobs, opportunities, and a future. Europe is not without its problems either. President Macron has declared NATO as brain dead. France had it yellow vest protests for weeks – and Spain and Italy have social problems; the cohesion of the European Union is shaky as we enter a period of change in its senior bureaucrats; and then of course there is BREXIT and the parliamentary paralysis this has created in the ‘mother of parliaments’.
I think we can say that we are not living in contented times. What might be the cause of this malaise? What underlies the fracturing of societies and alliances? Why are trade deals, closer monetary union, political integration, bureaucratic standardisation from Brussels why are these not managing to bring cohesion? What is it that is missing?
The answer will be complex, and manifold, but as this is Advent Sunday, I would say that one of the underlying causes of so much disintegration and political paralysis across Europe and beyond, is a lack of hope. When an individual feels hope-less, she or he feels less than what a human being should feel like, for it is not a natural condition for mankind to be hopeless. When societies have no sense of hope, of expectation, then they eventually disintegrate, because the glue of human hope is not holding communities together.
Europe has a Christian heritage – this is a fact –and that common heritage of faith should be enlightening human lives. Instead it becomes replaced with political anthropological models that do not feed the soul. Eventually the erosion of the soul, leaves individuals and society soul-less. When we are soul-less, then we are in deep trouble – empty vessels of clay.
Advent Sunday is not a panacea for all the troubles of the nations and societies – I am not that naïve – but today we have a message, a message that we need to remind ourselves of, and if we can be persuaded of the message then we can be the light and the salt that we are called to be in the world.
Advent proclaims hope. Hope in God; hope in the coming of the Redeemer ‘who liveth’, as many of us will sing or hear at some point this month in Handel’s great Oratorio, the Messiah. We might call it a Sing-a-long Messiah here, and in many places, but really that oratorio is about Sing-a-long HOPE – the hope that comes from acknowledging that God is among us in Christ, because he is Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’
It is this that brings a bedrock of hope – and with that hope comes meaning, purpose, lives shaped and hallowed on the values and realities of the Kingdom. Let me remind myself and you – I am not talking of a life with no problems, no anxiety, no challenge, and no grief, but a life in which all of these human situations can be carried, though carried painfully, in the alchemy of God’s redeeming love and endless glory. It is this great vision of redeeming love and endless glory, that the prophet Isaiah can speak of swords being beaten into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks – instruments of death and suffering transformed into implements for food and sustenance. In that great vision of hope ‘nation shall not rise up against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
This morning, on this Advent Sunday, we are ‘Receiving’ into the tradition of the Church of England 2 Christian men, from different Christian backgrounds, 2 different countries, 2 different cultures, and 2 sets of personal experience. This experience has included hardship, persecution, danger, threats, and more. This could have led to hopelessness. However it has not. Though challenged by circumstances and deeply adverse conditions these men represent hope – hope for individuals, for their families, for their society – hope in Jesus Christ, the foundation of their lives. Thanks be to God for nourishing their hope, and for their willingness to endure hopefully.
We never know when the comfort of our lives will be challenged – or when the normal customs of our society might collapse. We don’t know everything and we never will. This includes the time when the Messiah will come again – a key component in the hope of this blessed season of Advent. Remember – Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. However there is some knowledge to which we have access; something we can know for sure. It is this. Stay awake; be ready; get prepared; for as St. Matthew reminds us this morning ‘the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’
So let this Advent be a period in which we all build strong foundations of hope, hope that is realized in a baby lying in a child born in Bethlehem, whose first little cry will resonate with his last cry from the cross. Christ is the hope within us. Turn to him this Advent, and discover the true joy of Christmas.