Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 11

 

We have an urgent need for peace, and yet, peace cannot be imposed upon us, nor can we fit it with a leash or harness and domesticate it to walk at our heel. We can only know peace when we surrender the illusion of being in control of our lives, self-creating master of our own destiny. Peace is found in recognizing the sovereignty of Jesus, the Christ, the firstborn of all creation, who lies sleeping attended to by a court composed of smallholder goats and starlight.

This is unspeakably hard for the English, who are obsessed with the illusion of their own sovereignty. There is so much illusion to let go.

One evening a week through Advent, I open the church doors and invite people in, to sit in the dark, beneath a net of ‘star’ lights, Advent songs washing over us, a cup of coffee or hot chocolate in hand, and just to simply be. Breathing space, for those in danger of being overwhelmed, in these dark days. A simple gift of love. It is not about the numbers, but about the souls who come, seeking the face of the Christ-child. Last night their number included a man living with dementia, a woman who has just learned that the breast cancer has returned. And others, carrying burdens of self-doubt, or questions that are simply unanswerable. Sitting with God. Communing in wordless conversation. Surrendering the illusion that we are in control. And leaving with a weight lifted from their shoulders.

These are counted among the most wonderful hours of the week.

 

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 10

 

Peace is at the heart of the Christian story, that story we rehearse week by week when we come together, so that we are better able to live it when we are sent out again to our homes and neighbourhoods, workplaces, and thousand apparently random encounters before we gather again. At the heart of the Eucharist, having come together to hear and respond to Jesus revealed in the written Word, and about to meet him in the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation and carry his presence out into the world, we share The Peace, that recognition that it is Christ, the Prince of Peace, who has reconciled us to God and one another, in whom we are reconciled within ourselves. We look around, at the ragtag band who have come to the same place at the same time, to the same Person as us, and we lay down our weapons. ‘The Peace of the Lord be always with you.’ ‘And also with you.’ Truth be told, this is the second hardest thing we will do today; the hardest thing will be to not take them up again. Peace is the central revelation of Christ in the middle of his family, not (just) as sacrament of Story, not (just) as sacrament of Symbol, but as Prince of Peace. Peace is the central moment, and the Completion, when, at the end, we are sent out to ‘Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.’ ‘In the name of Christ. Amen.’

 

Monday, December 05, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 9

 

Hope holds on. Peace lets go.

Hope leads us, again and again, to that humble home in Bethlehem, David’s City, to kneel before the Prince of Peace. Peace has us lay down our decommissioned armaments of gold, incense, and myrrh in homage. The gold that insulates our hearts against our neighbours; the strength of our arm, and the burden of anxiety that weighs down on us in times of financial crisis. The incense of negotiation with our god, traditional deities or luck, the Universe, striking a deal that they might look down on us with favour. The myrrh of magical thinking, or denial, by which we seek to embalm the dead, preserve ourselves against our loss. Every weapon in our arsenal laid down, left behind, as we go home by a different route, the Way of Peace.

All hell breaks loose against the peacemakers. Yet, they are blessed. For they shall be called the children of God.

 

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Second Sunday of Advent 2022

 

On the Second Sunday of Advent, Hope passes the baton on to Peace.

As his people are surrounded by land-grabbing empires, and make desperate, futile attempts to secure their peaceful future, the prophet Isaiah proclaims that a day will come when God sends someone who will establish true equity. Then, there will be peace between the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the young goat, the calf and the lion, the cow and the bear. Then, young children will play safely over the adder’s nest (Isaiah 11:6-10).

He isn’t talking about animals, but of the nations, who take to themselves the symbols of aggressive animals. As the men’s football World Cup is taking place, think the three lions (leopards, actually) of England, or the dragon of Wales; the lions of the Netherlands, Senegal, and South Korea. Think the Russian bear attacking the nightingale that represents Ukraine; or the eagle of the USA, or ancient Rome with its eagle flying above the Pax Romana. Isaiah dares to proclaim, a day is coming when there will be true peace.

John the forerunner comes to prepare the way for Jesus, soaked in the words of Isaiah. When he sees many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized, he calls them a brood of vipers. The adder’s nest. Not a random insult, but a marker in time: the time when the innocent child will play in safety over the viper’s brood has come near. There is a development here, from the animals who represent surrounding nations to the snakes that represent internal interest groups, the Pharisees who tried to secure a peaceful future by keeping the rules, and the Sadducees who tried to secure a peaceful future by cozying up to power. But the point is made: a new day is dawning.

How might we know peace? By surrendering the illusion of control, and submitting ourselves to the sovereignty of the Christ, the King of Israel.

 

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 7

 

In the first week of Advent, we think about hope, and death, and the patriarchs and matriarchs. Hope endures—indeed, hope emerges and unfurls—only when false hope is gone. Abraham and Sarah desperately try to bring about the hope of an heir; and, in the end, they drive their hope away into the wilderness to die. God intervenes, of course, and even this false hope has a redeemed resurrection. But Hagar and Ismael will make their own journey to the nativity of God, on different paths to those of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. Hope gathers all of time and place to the Bethlehem manger, that all may be reconciled to God and neighbour.

Our false hopes, our hope in ourselves, must die; and yet we lay them down in true hope that even these missteps will be guided by some natal star, to the one who will judge the living (Hope) and the dead (hopes) in righteousness, with perfect justice and mercy.

What must die today, that hope may emerge?

 

Friday, December 02, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 6

 

Hope is resilient. And this year, I have noticed it being much shared on social media that hope is a street fighter. But hope is not a lone vigilante. Hope goes from place to place in the resolute company of faith and love. When hope is battered and bruised, faith and love raise her head. When faith is on her knees, love and hope lift her up. When love lies bleeding, hope and faith carry her to a place where she can heal. Hope is not faith is not love, yet these three are one, and in the end they will endure.

 

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Advent 2022 Day 5

 

Hope is the conviction that in the end all shall be well.

Hope, then, requires that all that makes for not-yet-well, not abstractly ‘out there’ in the world, but in you, in me, must be consumed.

Moses first encounters God in the wilderness, calling to him from a burning bush. Trees in the semi-arid wilderness have a high oil content in their leaves, and can get hot enough to spontaneously combust, burning out over a long time. But this tree is not harmed.

Whenever we come across a tree in the Scriptures, it stands for a person or people. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil planted by God in the Garden of Eden stands for God’s people; the Tree of Life, for God (I proposed, last Advent, that we should understand this story as concerning God’s people planted in exile in Babylon, and God there with them). The roots of these two trees, planted side-by-side, entwine, such that they cannot be pulled apart: for, in Jesus, God has come into the world, fully-God and fully-human.

Moses encounters God as he stands before a tree in the wilderness, a tree that stands for the people of God, a people taken by God for his own possession, to be his home, as a dove might roost in the branches of an olive tree. Within this tree, in its growth rings laid down year on year, in the sap that rises each spring, is the totality of the people of God, those who come before Moses and those who will come after, in chronological time, all represented in this Kairos moment.

As we stand before our God, lying in a cattle trough in a Bethlehem home, gazing upon his face, upon his glory, we catch alight, and burn, unharmed. And by this fire, all that is found in us that contributes to the not-yet-well of the world is consumed, until it is utterly consumed. A fire that will not go out until all the oil that fuels it is spent. And yet these halos of our sanctification do not burn a single hair of our heads: though you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned (Isaiah 43). We blaze, to the glory of God, and as lights in the darkness, as promise to the world that their darkness will be consumed until only light remains.