The First Sunday of Advent
We sing/listen to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEEd0uWnDGs
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
We sing/listen to:
One of the books on my wish list is ‘A Promised Land’ by Barack Obama. The title has just been released, and the ‘Presidential Memoir’ as is its termed, is a detailed account of the former supreme commander’s first term in office. This last week, the BBC broadcast an interview between President Obama and Professor David Olusoga, during which he many of the hot topics were discussed.
The interview begins with the news that the final chapters of the book were written during these last few months, months that have been nothing short of extraordinary. Nobody will forget the scenes at home and abroad that have flashed across our television screens: the murder of George Floyd; the rise of extremism; the ever-increasing sense of populism amongst politicians; a disputed Presidential election; coronavirus and all its implications; the list could go on and on…
The interview, candid in nature, suggests that that things are not as they should be; the USA is not how it should be. The President reflects that far from being the land of the free, it is rather a place of fear. Far from being the place where all are equal, there is rather drastic inequality. Far from being a place of hope, rather a lot seems hopeless. Democracy he writes is ‘teetering on the brink of crisis’. And yet, he still believes in the American dream, he still has faith in freedom, he still believes in equality, he believes in ‘A Promised Land’. He is not prepared to give up on America just yet.
Whilst the situation in the USA is radically different from our own, many of the same issues, Coronavirus, populist politics, and instability all play their own part in our British society, national problems play out on an international stage. It is easy to feel that things are hopeless. And yet as we begin Advent, we are reminded this year, perhaps more than in recent times, that that we should not expect things to be any different. Saint Mark states clearly in the gospel that there will be ‘suffering’, there will be moments when the things of this world will ‘pass away’, there will be occasions when events ‘take place’, all of which may cause us, as well as the heavens to be ‘shaken’ according to verse 25.
Generally speaking, like the President, we have a desire to see and live in ‘A Promised Land’ where these events, circumstances and happenings do not take place – but such a desire is not reflective of the words of Jesus. Far from being abnormal – we are told to expect that these very things will happen – and whilst this should not stop us from building societies of justice, mercy and peace, we should remember that we do not seek ultimately seek ‘A Promised Land’ but rather, as Christians, we seek, desire and long for ‘The Promised Land’. The scriptures today illustrate the point.
Our first reading from the prophet Isaiah knows all too well what it is to deal with disaster, national strife, persecution, fear and captivity, for chapter 64 was written just after the suffering people had returned to the ‘Promised Land’ after a lengthy exile. And what does Isaiah see? He sees a land in ruin, he sees destruction, disunity, internal division, he sees the temple destroyed and the presence of God to all intent and purposes, absent.
Despite this, despite the consequences of the peoples’ rebellion against God, he remains hopeful. For Isaiah, this is not the end of the story, it provides the opportunity for a new beginning; that is literally what Advent, means, ‘arrival’ or ‘beginning’. Why is this period a new beginning? Because God will do what Isaiah asks: ‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down’. This is exactly what we are preparing for – the coming again of Christ – the moment when the heavens were indeed torn open and the child came to his mother Mary’s womb. We live in a time of preparation, preparation for his coming – the coming of the Saviour. The Saviour who provides entrance not into ‘A Promised Land’ of our making however good, however equal, however free, but rather ‘The Promised Land’ won for us when he took our flesh, when he lived our life, when he died our death, when he rose from the dead for our salvation, opening for us the way to heaven. This Promised Land – the land for which Isaiah hoped for is available to us through Christ Jesus. It is a land of where the glory of God can be seen ‘in great power and glory’, it is a land where he is ‘enthroned upon the cherubim’ it is a Kingdom of justice, mercy, peace and eternal life. Recovering hope in that Promised Land and our entrance into it, what Advent is truly all about. Things are never hopeless because Christ has saved the world, he has ‘come to our salvation’.
I hope that with all the problems of the world we are not ready to give up on ‘The’ Promised Land. But rather place our trust in the God, whom Saint Paul reminds us in the second reading, ‘is faithful’. God is faithful and God will bring make our longing a reality. We do not know when, we do not know how, but we do know that it will be a place of ‘life immortal’.
How are we to prepare for this life? How are we to prepare for this Land? We must be ready; we must be ready to place our trust in the one who has come from it, to take us to it, Jesus Christ the Lord. Turn away from hopelessness, turn away from sin, and pray that he may bless his with his mercy so that when he does come – we may be found ready for The Promised Land.
O Lord our God,
make us watchful and keep us faithful
as we await the coming of your Son our Lord;
that, when he shall appear,
he may not find us sleeping in sin
but active in his service
and joyful in his praise;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We sing along/listen to: