This Advent I would like to offer you three challenges: the first is to accept and acknowledge our own sense of failure – this is the theme for the first short reflection. The second reflection will invite you to identify and even befriend your own darkness. In the third and final reflection I will ask you to consider your own perception of the Jesus we will welcome at Christmas; are we only welcoming the Babe of Bethlehem, or are we welcoming the Alpha and Omega coming us amongst us as a weak and vulnerable baby? A baby who will ultimately become the Saviour of the Word?
My three watchwords for this Advent are: failure, darkness and, vulnerability, for it is out of these that we are able to receive and become light. So to the first reflection:
Reflection 1 : Isaiah 9 : 2-7 & Isaiah 42 : 1-9
The readings we have just heard from the prophet Isaiah feel especially poignant this year. This year to borrow a phrase from Her Majesty has been in many ways an annus horribilis. Just look at Syria and, then consider the depths that political discourse plummeted to on both sides of the Atlantic. This year has not been one characterised by peace and righteousness. I wonder then how you react to the descriptions that the prophet uses to characterise Jesus: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace? Looking at the world around us have we failed to take his counsel and, bring his peace. Has Jesus himself failed? No, it is humanity that has failed; we have failed God and we have failed each other. Uncomfortable as it feels we need to let this feeling of failure grow throughout this short Advent season. We need to let it grow so that we can accept Jesus at Christmas as the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. We need to accept our sense of failure so we can really value the Present which is to be given and, to accept the charge given to us in the second reading: ‘to open the eyes that our blind, to bring prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in our darkness,’ to work with God in ensuring the ‘former things come to pass.’ The supreme paradox of Advent is this: that is only in accepting our own sense of deep rooted failure that we can become partners with Christ and, agents of liberation. Amen.
Reflection 2 : Ephesians 5 : 1-14
In the reading we have heard we have heard ourselves, you and me, described as ‘children of light.’ It is a wonderful and poetic phrase. This Advent one of the things we can usefully do is consider the contrast between light and dark. The temptation is, of course, always there to fear darkness and night but, as we know, light follows darkness. But this fear is something that should be resisted. As Christians we asked to enter with Jesus, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, into the darkness of the world, into the world’s or even Winslow’s hidden places and, we are asked to help transform them. Yes, as Christians we are asked to speak out against the powers of darkness, evil and corruption but we also have a bigger purpose which is to help transform them; after all Jesus entered into the darkness of the world and as St. Paul says we are to ‘be imitators of God.’ Becoming imitators of God implies discovering and confronting our own inner darkness and let it be transformed into light and, goodness. This Advent why not spend a few minutes sitting quietly and praying the wonderful night collect:
Lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord, in your mercy and in your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night for the love of your only Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
Reflection 3 : Revelation 21 : 1-7 & 21, 22-22, 5
This reading we have just heard challenges us to consider how we perceive Jesus. Do we desire a cuddly domesticated Jesus, or can we accept the challenge John presents in his revelation to accept a much bigger, grander and transcendent Jesus? If we reduce Jesus to a domesticated, once a year Messiah, we run the risk of always being slightly disappointed in Jesus, we run the risk of letting our faith be just a tad nostalgic. But, what if we take John’s word for it and accept that the Jesus who comes among us as a vulnerable baby is nothing more than the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end of all history, the one for whom we exist? If we can do this we will have taken the leap of faith. We will be able to live in the here and now, accepting all life’s difficulties and challenges, confident in God’s eternal promises. If we accept the vulnerable Babe of Bethlehem as the Alpha and the Omega then we will be able to accept that God truly is making all things new,’ that ‘every tear will (ultimately) be wiped away,’ that ‘death will be no more.’ We will be able to live as people of faith and, hope. We will become agents of faith and hope and surely that is good news. The bizarre, counter cultural paradox, is that in order to become agents of faith and hope, imitators of Christ, we first have to, just like Jesus, render ourselves highly vulnerable and enter into our own darkness so that we can become Light. This is our third and final Advent challenge.