Advent isn't about events. Advent, it seems to me, is more about an experience that is part of our faith, not one that the church gives expression to very much - the experience of the tension that we live with, as people who talk about hope in the promises of God.That evening I ran the first of some advent reflections at John Bunyan Baptist Church and part of that was reflecting on the year just ending through the front pages of the Independent newspaper. It was a reminder of all those now but forgotten events: violence in Kenya, cyclone in Burma, Josef Fritzl who held his family prisoner, the discovery of Radovan Kardadzic, earthquake in China, ongoing political violence in Zimbabwe, conflict between Russia and Georgia, the more recent violence in the Congo and Mumbai, and of course the ongoing violence in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan and global economic troubles. The Advent tension that Jo speaks of between the hope we proclaim and the reality of the world as it is was more than evident. The cry for the coming of God becomes more urgent, more desired as we hold on to and cling to the promises of God in the face of a world that feels so stuck in a spiral of violence.
Advent is a time when we acknowledge the tension between anticipation and fulfillment. The tension between the light and the darkness that are both present in our life in this world. The tension between certainty and mystery. Between what we long for and believe is possible, and the reality of what life can be like in this world today.
Some of us perhaps prefer to deal in certainties as believers, to know exactly where we stand in relation to the things of our faith and what we should expect of our Christian experience.
But for me, part of the point of Advent season, is that it lays out in front of us a myriad of expectations, hopes and dreams of what is possible ... insists that Emmanuel has come, that God is with us in this world.
... but then it offers us the space, a liturgical season, to explore the questions it makes impossible to avoid, to engage with the uncertainty and the darkness, to explore what we actually expect of God and of ourselves as we live mindfully in the gap between hope and despair, presence and absence, breathing out and breathing in.
The kingdom of God is at hand Jesus said, but when is it coming, and where do we see it? and what does it look like when we refuse violence? and what we do dream of when we refuse to place our hope and expectation in violence or the smiting of a violent God? but rather in the God who kneels and washes feet, and who places a child at the centre of the whole mystery and says 'begin here'.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Term ended last week at Regent's Park with a quiet day led by Rev Dr Jo Harding, a Baptist minister in Cheadle Hume. Jo led us through three excellent advent reflections and provided some space for our own reflections. The second of her reflections was on the subject of 'expecting.' The session began with listening to the U2 song ' When I look at the world' (from the album All That You Can't Leave Behind) with some images and then a reading from Isaiah 2.1-5. Here is then something of what she said: