Hands up who's gloomy about the news and the state of the world ... that’s most of us then! We are united in a solidarity of despair.
And yet, as Christians, we are called on to be both light and hope. Being light and hope is our Advent vocation. Being light and hope has always been the Christian vocation, for just like us the early Christians inhabited a world characterised by ‘confusion’ and ‘fear and foreboding.’ Just like the early Christians we, as the people of God, need to be on our ‘guard,’ less we capitulate in the face of all the uncertainty and despair that surrounds us. Like the early Christians we too need to make sure that we keep our eyes firmly focused on God so that the ‘worries of this life’ do not destroy us. Like the early Christians we must dare to believe that the answer to the problems we face is belief in God, through the person of his son Jesus Christ. In the face of the unfolding saga of pain, tragedy, selfishness and despair that surrounds us we, as Christians, must continue to be people who believe in and share Good News. In a world of bad news we must be good news : this is our Advent calling.
To be good news and to share good news, the good news of Jesus Christ and all that this implies in terms of love for neighbour, care and compassion for the outcasts, the downtrodden, the isolated and forgotten requires commitment and discipline. It also requires us to build up a sense of Christian resilience, the sort of resilience that allows us to keep going as believers in the Good News whatever else is going on around us, alongside a spirit of repentance; resilience and repentance are my Advent themes for this year. Let’s start with repentance, or as I prefer to call it radical repentance.
Radical repentance implies, for me, one thing above all else: a desire and determination to keep our eyes firmly fixed on Christ and his teaching. It means letting go of the fanciful notion that all of our problems will be sorted out through a new government, a new political ideology, a new guru-led spirituality. True repentance means in the words of Eugene Peterson a willingness to be delivered from the snare of the liars; ‘from the lies of advertisers who claim to know what I need and desire…...from the lies of politicians who pretend to instruct me in power and morality, from the lies of life-style gurus [my alteration - the original reads psychologists] who offer to shape my behaviour and morals so that I will live long, happily and successfully, from the lies of the religionists who offer cheap healing [my alteration from the original], from the lies of the moralists who pretend to promote me to the captain of my fate, from the lies of the pastors who get rid of God’s commands so you won’t be inconvenienced in following religious fashions….and from the person who tells me of life and omits Christ.’
True repentance, according to Peterson, with whom I wholeheartedly agree is simply this ‘saying no to the lies of the world, and yes to Christ.’ This Advent can I invite you to reject the lies, the seductive lies, and to say yes to Christ; for to do so is the essence of radical repentance.
To do this will require building up your, or our, stock of resilience. So how do we do this? Well, St. Paul provides the answer in the reading we have heard from the epistle: firstly, by cultivating a spirit of thankfulness in the face of turbulence, and secondly by prayer:
‘How can we thank God enough,’ and ‘night and day we pray earnestly for you.’
To put it mathematically resilience is a function of gratitude and prayer.
To help us build a sense of resilience this Advent we have produced a Short Form of Daily Prayer for use in the morning and evening. Yvonne and Carol have also produced an Advent painting and prayer for your use. Please do take these prayer resources away with you, and this Advent let them lead you to repentance, that quality of saying no the lies and yes to Christ, and resilience, so that we, God's people can, in the midst of the dark clouds of ‘fear,’ ‘foreboding’ and ‘worry,’ be agents of hope, light repentance and salvation.