My Advent Hope

3 December 2017

My Advent Hope

I have found myself saying lately that I have never been as despondent of the world as I am today….and yet neither have I ever been so convinced of my calling and so clear in my purpose.

This is a tricky time for us as a human race.  There is an extraordinarily obvious need to act, to resist the encroaching evil in our midst and to make a claim for truth.

 

In describing an Advent Hope it would be very easy to trot out a wish list.

To firstly identify all that is wrong with the world and then put the contrary possibility.

  • So… there is hunger – it would be wonderful if everyone had access to sufficient food to live well and healthily. And we could shut down foodbanks tomorrow. That could be our hope.
  • There is homelessness – it would be wonderful if everyone had a watertight roof over their heads with secure accommodation all round. That could be our hope.
  • There is conflict and war in so many parts of our world – it would be wonderful if peace would come. That could be our hope.

Now, we could easily go on, probably not running out of examples of how bad our world is and then seek to imagine a very different one.

The world certainly doesn’t match up to the ideal; that is for sure.  The utopia dreamt up by generations of prophets, idealists, political activists and hippies seems as far off now as it has ever done.  Those of us within the Christian Church who long to see God’s rule across the social and political world may end up disappointed; we are, after all, far from seeing in our lifetime God’s kingdom established on earth as it is in heaven.

Mary’s Magnificat, an early Church hymn that sought to place Jesus and his birth in the traditions of the past, spoke of the powerful being brought down and the lowly lifted high, about the hungry being fed and the rich being sent away empty.  After 2000 years our critics may have a case against Mary and indeed against us, the Christian Church. For example, and a relatively minor one compared to some others in the course of human history, how well will the church in Zimbabwe fair after so many within it supported Mugabe for so long?

You see, the problem with the sort of hope that views the world in all its torment, injustice and conflict and simply wants to rectify it, is that it is little more than a wish list, an unrealistic vision, a fantasy of what might be if we all sang from the same hymn sheet.   Here lies possibly the main stumbling block in turning a wish list into something more realistic.

Let me explain.

  • If we could all agree on how we get from global poverty and inequality to a fair distribution of the world’s wealth then we would be singing from the same hymn sheet.
  • If we could all agree on how we stop persecuting one another because of difference we would be singing from the same hymn sheet.
  • If we could all agree on the way the future should go we would be singing from the same hymn sheet.

You and I know that ‘aint gonna happen.’  Because even if we were to have access to the same hymn sheet we can’t always agree on the particular song to sing and even when we do some choose to sing in a different key.  We prefer our voice, our version, our choir, our orchestra to any that doesn’t suit our comfort zone.

Here is the dilemma:

  • There is much wrong with our world. We know that.
  • There always has been. We know that too.
  • Therefore we also know that we cannot overcome all that is wrong.
  • We can dream of a better world.
  • We can work for a better world.
  • But we know that we cannot attain it in all its fullness in our lifetime.

This can lead to despondency amongst those that near the end of their lives fearing that little or nothing has been achieved. This is probably more so today than for many a generation, because those that went before us were accustomed to improving our world and to seeing that improvement. But, today we are wondering if we are going to leave the world in a worse position than when we came into it:

  • Our seas are polluted.
  • Our land becoming less fertile.
  • Our weather is uncertain.
  • Species are becoming extinct faster than ever before.

And people today are only doing what they tend to do in a crisis:

  1. they develop a suspicion and fear of anyone who is different
  2. they gather round their own,
  3. and they batten down the hatches against the coming storm.

Populism and nationalism are growing – as they do at such times.  They did so when Germany faced a crisis in the ‘30s, they are doing so again today across Europe and across Britain.  But it is not fear of another catastrophe that will save us from following the same path. Nor a wish list.  What will save us and save our world is for a real hope to take hold; one that is realistic, authentic and achievable.

The Church in Germany during the 1930s spectacularly failed in the face of its greatest challenge. Over the centuries it had absolved its social and political responsibilities to the State. When that State chose to attack the weak and vulnerable, the minorities and the marginalised, all hell broke loose and European civilisation came close to collapse.

We cannot afford to let this happen again. We have to get it right.

Now this is my Advent Hope.

That we look not just at the world’s problems but the way in which those problems are affecting our mood:

  • They are increasing our fears
  • They are tempting us to disengage from others
  • They are encouraging us to become less hospitable

Having recognised this we must respond accordingly.

We have to:

  1. allow our fears to be overcome – after all perfect love drives out all fear
  2. be ever more open to others and to what they have to teach us
  3. and we have to become generous-hearted so that what we have is not ours to keep but ours to give.

When I get to know Jesus I discover that his concerns were focussed on the individual,

  • the woman that touched the fringe of his prayer shawl
  • the bereaved sister lamenting the death of her brother
  • the children that were being prevented from getting near to him
  • the tax collector who was so ashamed he chose to hide in a tree to catch sight of him lest he be spotted by others
  • the father concerned about the health of his child
  • the man whose mind was so disturbed by life that he came close to attacking Jesus

And us? What of us?

What of:

  • The woman whose past still weighs heavy on her?
  • The man who feels his purpose has been taken from him?
  • The student who fears not finding work?
  • The child pressured into growing up all too quickly?
  • And so on, and so on, and so on.

If it is that I have to regain my childlike trust and dispense of my built up self-importance to become a more effective disciple of Jesus, then so be it.

If it is that I must make myself ever more vulnerable to new truths that change my deeply set beliefs in order that I become more grounded in reality, then so be it.

If it is that by loving the individual, through hearing their story, embracing their pain and walking a lonely path with them, we are at our most politically active, then so be it.

Putting it simply and briefly, my Advent Hope is that day by day I become better able to relate to those about me and as a consequence that they become better able to relate to others.

This, then, must surely be the way in which our world’s problems are properly addressed; this is how we ourselves contribute to building a better world.

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