Reflections on Advent
I must admit having been brought up in the Anglican church in Ireland, I have never paid much attention to the church year, I have never seen the relevance for St Days, or Holy Days beyond the realms of Christmas and Easter; which allowed us to celebrate things central to human salvation. It is not that I did not appreciate the cycle of the Christian year. or those who did: To me, it was a question of preference and spirituality. We are all different, drawn to different ways of expression, different ways of life and different pathways of spirituality; I happily admit to being confused, I do not confine myself to one pathway, I enjoy aspects of everything, I adore vibrant praise to a Vibrant and Living God but I also have a love for deep bible teaching which historically would be more favoured by the reformed traditions within certain countries and I have a growing love for some things liturgical. All of t expressions are found within the Anglican tradition, which over time I began to appreciate and feel more at home in. I have always been open to learning from different expressions of the church with different views, which is why over the last number of years, I have appreciated more and more things that previously I would have considered irrelevant, including the liturgical cycle of the Christian year. Within the last few weeks I have grown in both knowledge of what Advent is and implies and the beauty of which it can bring to my own faith and those around me, I have grown to appreciate the important of not just acknowledging it but unwittingly finding my faith been challenged by considering the point of the Christian year we are in.
By coincident or divine providence within the last few weeks, I have found ‘Advent’ shaping my faith thinking, narrowing my focus beyond essays and readings to actually consider: what is Advent? What Does it mean to me and my faith? How can it benefit my faith? What importance does it hold in my ministry when it comes to this time of year? The origins of these thoughts have been three-fold:
The reality of the weekly Worships Cycle here at the Church of Ireland Theological is that it is strongly focused around the liturgical year, which brought within a specific focus on Advent; with candles, readings and Collects all around the theme and focus of Advent.
Having to preach during Advent on my recent placement in a Parish in Northern Ireland.
We receive a spiritually talk once a week during our training: One recently focused around the spirituality of Advent.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Advent is the hope that is found in it: We live in the world that needs hope, people on the street who are fighting everyday to try and make it through the night, Refugee’s who leave unimaginable suffering and poverty to advance on a journey with terrors the human mind would struggle to grasp, A mother working two or more jobs simply to meet ends meet and the Christian who is a living witness to the gospel. We all need hope, we are all fuelled by hope. Sometimes our hope is misplaced, set on the wrong people, places, objects or goals that sometimes we reach and when we do we are left with a sour taste in our mouth because the hope of something that we placed in that which we did not have, when we now have we realise that it is simply not enough. The refugee leaving the shores of suffering arrives in the promised land of safety to fend suspicion and paranoia from people long established, that they will need to work hard to start a new line, I do not mean that there hope of a new life or safety was misplaced simply that over and over again we as humans must temper where we place our hope: When we place our hope in the wrong things. Advent is the season of Hope. Hope placed on the incarnate Son of God, hope placed in his first coming that he will bring about something new, hope placed in his second coming that he will restore all things to new: Its a hope that cannot be misplaced, that does not need tempered and that will not let us down. Romans 8 19-25 says:
“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
We are given vivid imagery of the longing for hope; the birthing pains that are felt by creation in the hope that all things will be made new, We as Christians and human beings are no different; we stand with creation in the advent of the second coming of Christ, where all things will be made new. this was something I had never really considered hope our Hope as Christians is eschatological looking to the end: Knowing that in the end all will be made well. In advent we see the first coming of Christ as the beginning of the transformation, the Kingdom of God is being built slowing and surely and in Advent we look to the second coming for the fulfilment of the promises of scripture with the Kingdom of God will come in its fullest and we will live in the reality of a hope that as Christians we have known for years.
The reality of this season is that it has lost some of it meaning, it has been consumed by the material culture that has engulfed the western world. Advent has been lost in the fog that starts once we get Halloween out of the way, we are hit almost every waking hour of the day with adverts that point us towards the coming holiday, Offering Presents, furniture holidays and so much more: Offering you all you want now. Advent the season of Longing and hoping has been replaced with a spirit of demanding and consumerism. Expectation has given way to expecting. There is a need in this season to rediscovering the heart of advent, the spirituality of Longing. Becoming aware of the reality that we are living in and opening our eyes to the hurt that is around us, to the suffering of those down or roads and those who struggle to simply survive. We must find in the spirituality of Longing; the hope to set things right around us; to look to the refugee, the homeless, and the suffering and to simply help. To stop thinking of ourselves and learn to give of ourselves. To long for the better of the world around us, to live out the Kingdom until the Second coming of Christ: To be a people of hope; who Long for hope; who bring hope to the hopeless. An Image that has always struck me and carries even more weight now when I think of this time of year is the nativity. When I think of the reality of the first coming of Christ, that hope would arrive in the trowels of an animal feeder; That hope would be born the lowest of the low amongst peasants and animals, but yet the nature of the Life Jesus lived, in serving for others: Preaching the gospel and bringing hope. When I compare that the reality of the second coming, When Christ will come of his own accord in full power and might and all the glory will be given to him, What strikes me is the contrasting Imagery: The quietness of the first arrival compared to the overbearing imagery and noise of his second coming. Images of Meekness and Majesty, yet the foundation of each coming is hope. In the first Advent of Christ we see an Image of meekness, We see the reality of the gospel lived out. That it is not about class or social status but it is simply about Jesus who came to turn around the established religious order. In the advent of the second coming we think about the coming King who is returning to bring to completion the work of the Kingdom that he started then passed to his Church. The First Advent calls us to focus on the Hope that is to come: The Second Advent calls us to focus of the hope that will be fulfilled. We are in the middle; day by day, encounter by encounter becoming a people who fulfil that hope and bring it.
In closing as I think around this season that is Advent I want to think around my sermon. In the first week of this month (December 2015) on my placement parish, I was preaching; the gospel reading for the day was Luke 3:1-6 which deals with the work and Ministry of John the Baptist. I will easily confess I was not enamoured to be preaching the passage, it was short and at first glance did not seem to have anything substantial around it: However God is God and as he is teaching me his word always has meaning and depth. One thing I love about sitting down to prepare a sermon is that I always seem to learn more that the people I will end up preaching it to. So the more time I spent in 6 little verses at the beginning of Luke the more I was reminded of. The first verse tells us that John the baptist was a historical figure who was assigned by God and given a mission to preaching the coming of the Messiah. at the end of Verse two, we are reminded of one simple thing that God calls. The word of God came to John the Baptist and like the prophet Isaiah you can do nothing but respond to Gods call. In the next few verses, we learn and see the foundations of the message of Christ, repent and turn. Luke paints a picture of a new order being established, the lowly will be exulted the prideful will be made lowly. Mountains will be levelled: That is anything that stands in the way of the coming hope, the coming King will not be able to Stand. Through John, we see God announcing that he is about to begin working out his hope and that nothing will stop him doing it. Finally, I was reminded of the Need for John the baptists today, That I must become John the baptist; that are all must be John the baptists. As he proclaimed the hope of the first coming. We must proclaim the hope of the Second: As he was the herald for the first Advent we as Christians are called to be the herald of the second coming of Christ, calling people to turn from their own ways, their sins and find the fulfilment of the hope that is coming and is now.
Hope is called the anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19), because it gives stability to the Christian life. But hope is not simply a ‘wish’ (I wish that such-and-such would take place); rather, it is that which latches on to the certainty of the promises of the future that God has made
The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity–hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory–because at the Father’s will Jesus became poor, and was born in a stable so that thirty years later He might hang on a cross
We as Christians this Advent need to live in the hope of the First coming, where God became human to make a way for us to enter into a loving relationship with him and live in the reality. To respond to that hope, working every day of our lives to bring a hope of a better tomorrow for those where today feels like enough. We become a people of Grace bringing hope. We need to become John the baptist pointing the ruined humanity to the wonderful work of the Cross where the hope of the first coming was magnified and Jesus showed his authority, calling people to response to the hope they have been given because we as Christians. We as Christians are proclaiming a gospel of repentance and forgiveness and pointing to the reality of the second coming of Jesus where hope will be fulfilled and all things will be made new, and only those who live in the hope of the first coming can past in the beauty and serenity of the Second.
Let us be a people living hope proclaiming hope and knowing hope.