Saturday, 29 November 2014

Advent Hope

"£25m Pay Deal Criticised" - BG group, headquartered here in Reading, are hiring a new CEO, Helge Lund, who wants £25 million for his first year. He may or may not get all of it, but the reality remains that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The reason is simple: the rich have the power to decide where the money goes and so they take it; the poor don't have power so they struggle to feed their families. It seems to me that there should be a reckoning for this, an accounting, a judgement if you like.

"Kassig Had ‘Calling’ To Help Syrians" - Peter Kassig was kidnapped and killed by the IS/ISIS/ISIL and a video of his death posted. What western media rarely mentions is that around 14 Syrians were also murdered on the video, an omission that seems to me to play into the hands of the IS propagandists. Nevertheless, what we have in Syria and Western Iraq is a situation where men (mostly) of violence are slaughtering people of goodwill and good intent. Surely that demands a reckoning, an accounting, a judgement.

"Rotherham: Tip Of The Iceberg" - At least 1,400 vulnerable children abused by a paedophile ring. Why the 'tip of the iceberg'? One reason is that there are now investigations into other paedophile rings operating in other towns and cities across the UK. The other is that police chiefs are now saying what the NSPCC have been saying for years: that all of these paedophile rings are only the tip of the iceberg of child abuse in this country - the vast majority of abuse takes place in or around the home, carried out by family members or family friends.There has to be a reckoning, an accounting, a judgement, and it must come soon: every day more children and young people are suffering.

What is God doing about all this?

Which brings us to Advent. Advent is not just looking back to the first Christmas, celebrating Emmanuel, God with us, and wondering about all that God was doing. Advent is also about looking forward in hope. In the church calendar, last Sunday was the Feast of Christ the King; for the next few Sundays we look forward to the return of King Jesus to earth to reign in power over a new Kingdom of justice and peace. Sounds easy?

Back in the days of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah he wrote warnings about the consequences of the injustice, greed and violence racking his nation. Many of his passages have a thick dark thread of warning, interwoven with a fine gold thread about God intervening personally to sort things out. The warnings in due course came true, back in 587BC when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and exiled many of its people. Injustice piled on injustice, with greed, violence, poisonous politics and exploitative religion, had built up a toxic brew which eventually boiled over in death, destruction and horror. You can read about it in the Old Testament book of Lamentations.

It was several centuries before the fine gold thread took effect ... and then it was in a totally unexpected way. A baby in a manger, what is that about? The everyday miracle of a new birth, new life, imbued with the once-in-history miracle of the incarnation: God as humanity; the infinite creator of the universe as a tiny baby in its mother's arms. A wonder.

But still injustice, greed and violence continue. The Gospel writers, like Isaiah before, warn again of the consequences. Again, a thick dark thread of warning mixed with the fine golden thread of hope. There will be violence and destruction but, at an unknown time and in an unknown way, there will be change. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed - again - in AD70, "not one stone left on another", but Jesus, crucified by men of violence, has been raised to be king. Soon, we don't when, he will return.

Injustice, greed and violence remain - see the headlines above. They regularly boil over in a reckoning of death, destruction and horror, but that changes nothing in the long term. A new approach is needed; a new kind of reckoning. Instead of a judgement of death and destruction, the world needs a judgement of redemption and transformation. Not a reckoning of retribution, but a reckoning of renewal: a totting up, a drawing of the line, a fresh start. The point is what comes after, not judgement in itself.

We get a pointer from the apostle Paul's first letter to the young church in Corinth. Talking about Jesus' return, Paul tells them that all we have done which is wrong, which falls short, which is unworthy of Jesus, all that will be burnt up when Jesus comes, destroyed, blown away, no more. Cleansed. On the other hand, he tells us later, all that we do which is good, wholesome, worthy of Jesus' name, that will last forever. Not just a good thing for today, but Jesus will carry it over into his reign, his kingdom. Anything good we do this week will be a part of Jesus' Kingdom throughout eternity.

The point is that we are not to be afraid of making mistakes, we need to reach out and do whatever good we can.

Jesus' parable of the talents makes the same point: God has given the gift of life to us; he wants us to use it. Not to hide away in fear, in case we make a mistake, but to use it to make a difference, to make this world a better place, and so to work toward the world to come.

Because Jesus' reign and Jesus' Kingdom are not just about when Jesus returns in glory. The Advent Hope is so much more than that. Jesus' Kingdom will come fully when Jesus returns, but even now it is breaking through where Jesus' followers are at work. Even now Jesus reigns where his people do the unexpected, take risks: when we help those who would not help us, when we are kind to those who show only enmity, when we go further, look deeper, do more. That is where Jesus' Kingdom is visible, calling people to respond.

This is what the Lord's Prayer means when we say "your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven". It must never just be just words, it is to be said as a commitment: we will do all we can to help God's Kingdom break through where we are. Because the Advent Hope is not just an idea, it is actions and attitudes and a brave heart in difficult situations. It is trusting God to use all that we do for good.

And it is also saying, "Do hurry up, Lord, we're doing our best, but we still need you down here now!" Come, Lord Jesus, come.

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