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Theme for Advent 1, 1 December 2019

The prophet Isaiah, by Michelangelo

Scripture for this Sunday:
Isaiah 2.1–5; Psalm 122; Romans 13.11–14; Matthew 24.36–44

The season of Advent is a season of preparation,  and a time to look at the ways in which gathering in has taken place through the history of our faith, beginning with the people of Israel – and then moving on to be gathered in as the followers of Christ, the people of the new Israel. This gathering raises questions about how we can come together in a world where differences not only abound but are accentuated to promote division and all its hostile side-effects.

In Washington, D.C., there is a religious community that dates back to the 1970s and has taken the name Sojourners.  The biblical metaphor “sojourners” identifies God’s people as pilgrims – fully present in the world but committed to a different order. 

At the beginning of this year I saw an e-mail in which Jim Wallis, one of the founders of the Sojourners’ Community, took up the question of “Where do we go from here?” and pondered its application to our own time and the troubling aspects of the culture in which we live – in Europe as much as in North America.  

He suggested four ways forward, which apply to Christians facing the blinkered nationalism, divisiveness and polarisation within the world around us.  Nearly a year has passed and yet his ways forward seem just as pertinent, if not more so. They are:

  • Going deeper into our faith, to keep us grounded and able to respond – not just react  – to the chaotic and traumatic events happening around us and in our own lives.
  • Learning how to separate prophetic truth-telling from divisive politics. The prophetic mission is to speak truth boldly. We must root ourselves in biblical truth, and remember: “Know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
  • Pastoral care for each other is vital in times like these. To move forward, we must commit to taking care of each other and ourselves.
  • Becoming more deeply connected in our relationships and our capacity to unite. As a community of sojourners, we are called to create across political, racial, and theological boundaries to reflect, pray, and act. 

During these four Sundays of Advent, a time of preparation and of reflection upon our spiritual ways forward, we might do well to take a look at these four ways as they align with the Advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love. 

Any journey is more secure with reliable guidelines and signs that someone has walked before us.  Scripture gives us a kind of map but also the signs of previous journeys through the terrain of human nature, which changes a lot less than we often realise, giving the Bible a timelessness in its application to our lives.  

Jim Wallis’ suggestion of going deeper into our faith as a first step on our journey forward means taking the time to understand the scriptural basis of our faith and the record of the history of our relationship with God.

One of the reasons that I have chosen to read Nick Baines’ book, Freedom Is Coming, during Advent and Christmas is that it is a way to look more deeply into our faith through the writing of the prophet Isaiah.

Nick Baines writes this about the time of the prophet:

“Isaiah speaks to a people who do not want to hear bad news; they think they are invincible, that their God can be taken for granted as being on their side and ‘good news’ is that which speaks of a glorious future for them. Right at the beginning of his book, Isaiah ­exposes this bizarre situation, using image and sarcasm to strip back the veneer of respectable religion and to see through the pretended the­o­logies of self-fulfilment and self-satisfaction.”

Freedom Is Coming, Nick Baines

That might sound vaguely familiar!  It is a characteristic of scripture that although it was written of and for a specific time and place, it has a timeless quality.  Despite all our technological, scientific and economic advances, human nature has not changed much – which is a pity in a way, because we would expect, or at least hope, that by now our rough edges would have been smoothed and softened by the ministry and teaching of Jesus.

Going deeper into our faith can be accomplished by looking at scripture from times that echo our own, and study of the writings of prophets such as Isaiah can help us to look more clearly for truth, and to follow Jesus’ urging to keep ourselves ready.  

Perhaps if we realign our journeys with the will of a very patient God, as demonstrated through the long-suffering Christ, then we might, in hope, move a step nearer to God’s vision as stated by Isaiah: a time when God, “shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

By aligning our journeys with God’s will, we can move ourselves and our communities closer to being gathered into the hope of Christ’s kingdom.  Let’s take the time during this Advent season to check our maps and ask ourselves where our journeys are leading. Advent arrives during seasonal days of darkness to invite us to find ways to “walk in the light of the Lord,” in a spirit of hope.

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