- Jeremiah 33:14-16
- 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
- Luke 21:25-36
I am not that good at Advent. Advent, a time of waiting and watching. A time of being still, yet keeping alert. A time of making space in our too busy lives, yet rushing around making preparations. A time of looking back and re-living the old story, the wonderful narrative about the birth of our Saviour, and yet a time of looking forward, of anticipating the transforming, life changing event of Christ’s birth.
But how do we hold these two opposing tensions together? How do we make space, and be still, and look back – and yet keep awake and look forward? How do we keep the space of Advent?
What is needed to create a space, a safe enough space for reconciliation, a liminal space, a space for Advent – for the waiting and the keeping alert. A space where we can get ready for the ‘righteous one’. As God’s people, we hold together in this space past, future and present. God’s kingdom exists in this space – in the liminality of the past, the future and the space we inhabit today.
There is a poem by a Northern Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, which helps us to prepare ourselves on this first Sunday in Advent for the coming of the righteous one. It’s called, Doubletake, and is part of ‘The Cure at Troy’. Here is an extract:
Human beings suffer.
They torture one another.
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.
History says, Don't hope
On this side of the grave
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
‘That justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme’. Advent – a space for history and hope. The medieval cathedral at Coventry was bombed on the night of 14 November 1940 during the blitz. It, along with two thirds of the city was destroyed. A new cathedral was built alongside the ruins – a remarkable act of bringing hope out of despair. In our ministry of reconciliation at Coventry cathedral we deal daily with hope and history. One of our core values in the cathedral is ‘Healing the wounds of history’. And St Michael’s House, where we deliver our reconciliation programme, bears the strapline, ‘Making space for hope to flourish’. Healing the wounds of history and making space for hope.
How do our readings help us make sense of history and hope?
Jeremiah’s words are of hope. Hope of the coming of the righteous one, the branch for David. Jeremiah was however writing in a time of despair. Jerusalem was about to be overrun by the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar, with bodies in the streets and imminent doom. The worst had not yet happened, but Jeremiah’s prophecy looks like it is coming true. And yet, he writes these words of hope in the face of history. New life, a new branch for David (or shoot of Jesse in Isaiah) is coming. We read these words in the light of Christ as the messianic hope. Christian Aid has joined the worldwide Community of the Cross of Nails (CCN) with its three priorities of healing the wounds of history, learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity, and building a culture of peace. The work of Christian Aid is just that – building hope from wounded lives and lands, from wounded histories. This is what we read in Jeremiah too – the messianic hope which will bring new life for all.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Paul is writing to the Thessalonians in response to Timothy’s report that they still love him. He is exhorting them to love by praying night and day, so that they be blameless when the Lord Jesus and all the saints come back. Clearly there has been some sort of ‘lack in faith’. Paul seems desperately to want to help them to be restored, and strengthened in holiness. This is his hope for God’s people, and on this first Sunday in Advent it must be our hope too.
Advent makes us wait. Moreover, it makes us wait in a state of suspension, of alertness, of wakeful anticipation. Yet, why be so alert? We know what happens don’t we? We know the story of the angel, of Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, of the star, of the birth in a stable, of the wise men – It is an old and familiar story. Comfortable and comforting. But Luke tells us that is not all that is going on – there will be a second coming…sometime! And when it happens, life as we know it will be blown away. We find out that ‘there will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. And yet, Luke tells us, our ‘redemption is drawing near’. Pretty transformative, startling stuff.
So keep awake this Advent! What are the signs of the coming of God’s kingdom in us as God’s people? In the situation in Lebanon? In you, or me, or us all? In the CCN of which Christian Aid is a partner? What are the signs of Christ coming again among us?
I visited some of our CCN partners in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory earlier this year. People working to try to bring peace in that still troubled land. I asked everyone I met about hope. ‘Can you keep hope alive in such difficult situations you face every day?’ I asked. One Christian answered, ‘I can keep hope because Jesus was here. Even though He has gone from our land, I know He will come again.’ Hope and history can indeed rhyme.