I appreciate the rhythm of the monastic day and the seasons of the liturgical calendar. I’m indebted, not for the first time, to the writings of Tom Wright, who has provided me with a series of Advent Bible readings and commentary, journeying with the apostles Peter, Paul and John and linking his reflections to the Sunday readings in the Lectionary. They have provided me with an inspiring companion and comfort as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.
I have also enjoyed the wonderful Bethlehem Rhapsody video that is to my mind pure joy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pW1pbuyGlQ0
Having just returned from a Christingle service with some of our children and grandchildren I have grateful for the opportunity to have worshipped over the four Sundays of Advent in different church settings and sing with various congregations familiar yet still remarkably powerful Advent hymns, the words of which have enlightened, reminded and brought comfort and joy as I reflect on this last year: O Come , O come Immanuel…O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer, our spirits by Thine advent here, disperse the gloomy clouds of night… and close the paths to misery….
They herald tidings of comfort and joy to a world that is troubled and turbulent.
No serious thinking person could surely doubt that we are living through some very turbulent times. I cannot recall a period in my lifetime that has been so disturbing or threatening. Like the prophet Jeremiah, we cannot speak peace, peace, when there is no peace. I believe that we are witnessing the emergence of a new dark age, with attitudes and actions, policies and programmes that run counter to the values of God’s kingdom, the consequences of which are fearful. Whilst Western consumerism continues to distract or blind us to many of the realities and issues facing the world, the choices and directions which have been taken in recent years, will, to my mind, reap a harvest of destruction that will bequeath to our children and our children’s children a terrible legacy. The narratives of protectionism, nationalism, sectarianism and racism, allied to the ‘post-truth’, ( last year’s Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year) have catapulted exploitative, deceitful and opportunist leaders into power and should send a shudder of fear and concern to anyone seriously contemplating what the future may look like. The narratives of the biblical story, in an age of post-truth lies and spin, escapist myths and fantasy legends, stand out in stark contrast for their graphic and real portrayal of truth. God’s story that goes to the heart of human nature and the consequences of living contrary to his loving purposes, not only records the historical happenings surrounding that first Christmas but remind us of the present realities of violence and brutality, power and the suppression of anyone who dares to resist or oppose, the lack of compassion meted out upon the world’s poorest, the vulnerable; children, orphans, disabled, refugees and asylum seekers and the scapegoating of people leading to their demonisation, exclusion and victimisation.
These are dark days, when, for example we can endorse the sale of British arms as export successes and then try to suppress the truth that British cluster bombs, banned by an international treaty, have been used by Saudi Arabia to kill innocent victims, including women and children in the Yemen.
Dark days that have seen us turn a deaf ear to the cries of the child refugees and adopt a hardline attitude that has abandoned more than half of the 1900 children seeking refuge after the Calais jungle refugee camp was demolished.
It is a small measure but we look forward to helping the church where we will settle following our moving home last week, to participate in a Syrian refugee resettlement scheme. The town where we now live is taking 28 refugees from Syria in the new year. A small but important initiative which sadly has had to take into account the prospects of abuse and threats being made to refugees as they settle. A stark contrast to the remarkable welcoming and integration of over 4,000 refugees into Arnhem in the Netherlands, recognising the need to respond to the global refugee crisis. Lord have mercy upon us….
Dark days when we have added fuel to the poisonous politics of fear that will threaten to tear the heart out of Europe, divide its nations and give opportunities to extremist groups on the Left and Right, including neofascist parties who are able to capitalise on the decision here in Britain to leave the EU. I was with a Nigerian/ Scottish pastor recently who described Europe, not Africa, as a ‘Dark Continent’. Dark days when the President of the USA behaves as he does repeatedly threatening to undermine democracy, decency and efforts to resolve conflict by peaceful means.
Dark days that are seeing an alarming and increasing gap between the rich and the poor of the world. In the words of the late singer/ songwriter Leonard Cohen; Things are going to slide, slide in a directions. Won’t be nothing, Nothing you can measure anymore. The blizzard, the blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it has overturned the order of the soul…… There’ be the breaking of the ancient western code.
Turbulent days….. now and as in the days of the prophet Isaiah, who proclaimed a promise of hope; The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
Never has there been the need to recapture the Good News of the Christian narrative that speaks of light amidst the darkness, hope to transform despair and peace to counter the violence of this emerging new age. Within that promise, revealed in Jesus, is the prospect and the call for a different way of living, where love reigns, where compassion motivates and determines attitudes and actions, where justice and mercy are extended to all, where gentleness, generosity, empathy and kindness govern our lives, neighbourhoods and nations. The reality of God’s love for the world and the coming of his Son to redeem, transform and heal enables us to hold a flickering but inextinguishable light in the ensuing darkness.
May the hope of Christ and his inextinguishable light illumine your paths throughout this Christmas and the coming year.
The peace of all peace be yours this night and throughoyt the coming year.
Hope is the ability to hear the music of the future. Faith is the courage to dance to its tune today. Peter Kuzmic, Croatian theologian
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