Advent is one of the two great seasons of journeying for Christians.
We move through this season of longer and longer darkness towards a point of light that slowly grows stronger. The readings are all about getting ready, being awake and alert, preparing for what’s coming.
And what is coming? We hear readings about the return of Christ, and about God’s promise of a time of healing, restoration, liberation, comfort. We hear notes of judgment and words of hope.
We’re on a journey from the darkness to the light; from the reality of sin and suffering to the assurance of something better. And we have a role to play in that, not as passive passengers on the Advent train through the wilderness, but as active participants.
In our Advent small groups we’ve been reading and discussing the passages for each Sunday, and pondering the reflections written by members of St Aidan’s family for us. I want to share some of their wisdom with you today.
Michael Van Dusen has written background notes on each of the Old Testament and Gospel readings in Advent for our small groups, as well as writing reflections that go out on our church website every week through the year. In his reflection for this week he considers what it might mean for each of us to say as Isaiah does, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” What might it mean for us to be people who bring good news to this hurting world? He writes:
‘The Spirit of the Lord upon you” is not reserved just for prophets or saints of Jesus’ day. As the opening lines of this reflection suggest, the Spirit beckons each of us to represent God in our world and to bandage the wounds we see. The same Spirit lights each of us and invites us to reflect that Spirit into our world in the way we live.
Christine MacMillan has written a reflection for us on the same passage, as someone with a unique perspective working for a global Christian organization. She chairs task forces on refugees and human trafficking, reporting to the UN, and sees the big picture of human need. She writes:
My work does not meekly offer the Advent phrase: ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ Rather, the Spirit of the Lord and heaviness upon me rant and rave for God’s liberality in the immensity of present day suffering. Not unlike a John the Baptist…. a voice crying in the wilderness.
Part of this Advent journey involves facing the suffering and crying out for justice.
John Brewin, a newer member of the St Aidan’s family along with his wife Pat Thompson, also wrote an Advent reflection for us. As a Christian, a labour lawyer and a former MP, he also is passionate about justice and God’s call to us collectively to build a new pathway to God. He writes this:
[There is] a call to all of the world’s people to move to a new paradigm in which we proceed with humility to build a world that is consistent with the values we are taught by the ancient wisdom: love our neighbour, work together in hope building a highway to the promised land of peace, love and justice. Don’t wallow in disappointment and despair. I would hope the Church will be a voice in the wilderness calling all humanity to find a way out of the desert that confronts us.
Yet John the Baptist was very clear that he was not the Messiah. And neither are we.
I sometimes have to remind myself that it’s not up to me, or to St Aidan’s, or to the Anglican Church, or even to Christians all over the world, to save the world. That’s not our role, it’s God’s. We play our part – large and global or small and local – in cooperation with God, and we wait for its fulfilment.
Chris Schryer has written a reflection for us about this paradox of activism and waiting:
When we wake up to news of hurricanes and earthquakes, of another mass shooting, of war and violence and the likelihood of more, and we feel helpless and so small and our hearts are broken yet again, we stop for a moment, and wait. Then, like the rest of creation, we groan, and we push forward with whatever little bit we can. In the face of the massive consumerist rush and parties and school concerts and decorations and too much eggnog, we need to put down the tinsel, and wait… Work and wait, and remember that this baby born is the promise of new life and redemption.
There’s a prayer I love (that’s often read in commemoration of Archbishop Oscar Romero) that says this:
It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything.
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. (Bishop Ken Untener)
Beth Fisher Adams has also written about things that are not ours to own, in her Advent reflection on Mary. As you know, Beth and Matt are foster parents which means that their exquisitely difficult journey is to love and care for children as if they were their own, but be ready to let them go. Beth writes:
The children who come into our home are not fully or only mine. I have to hold them with open hands. So I think about Mary, waiting to welcome her child, already knowing she will have to give him up some day, in some way. And I think about the Christ-child, coming to make his home with us. He is ours, but not-ours – someone we can welcome and love, but never own. Someone we have to hold with open hands.
There is so much wisdom right here among us, in people of faith like you, who are on this Advent journey together: who are on this life journey and faith journey together. I’m grateful for Michael, Christine, John, Chris, Beth and all those taking part in the Advent small groups and sharing their stories and experiences.
I’m grateful and moved every time I see the actions undertaken here at St Aidan’s to work with God for justice, healing, peace –so many actions, groups, projects, committees and individual people humbly doing what they can.
We are on a journey from darkness to light.
We share our steps along the way together.
And God’s grace enters. Amen.