Advent...and Climate Change
Second Sunday in Advent: 6th December, 2009
Fr John Davis, Vicar of St Peter's, Eastern Hill
Advent is a wonderful time for dreaming dreams and seeing visions. It is a time of hope and expectation. It is a time to reconsider and to review. It is a time to prepare for something better than what is. It is a time to recognise that help is at hand and that our own resources do not need to be enough. It is a season when we honour the fact that God so cared for the health and the salvation of this world in all its complexity through the whole line of great prophets, right to the last of them this morning in John the Baptist.
This morning's gospel directly identifies John with the 'voice crying in the wilderness' in Isaiah (and in the Messiah as we heard again last night.) We will in due course move from the witness of John to the example and action of a young woman named Mary, who gave birth to the Christ Child in Bethlehem in Judea. This is a message for all the generations. A message that is not only gently beautiful, but full of confronting challenge. That challenge is already there in this gospel in the call to prepare the way of the Lord once again. All people shall indeed see the salvation of God, but there are rough places and crooked paths that need attention.
The Advent message then is one of renewal and hope in the context of the invitation to again become spiritually deeply alive. Every year for the last four weeks before Christmas we have this opportunity. The message varies from year to year in detail but not in overall direction. We ask our questions and we are given some answers and some hope. Our personal response is very much part of this unfolding story — how it plays out for us: where we are, whoever we are, whatever our circumstances.
The people who hear this message start to put it into the context of all the old prophecies of a promised One; a Messiah. The expectancy grows, but John is to make it clear that he is not the One who is to come. As compared to him, John says in that striking image — he is not even worthy to undo the strap of his sandal, as a slave would. Something, someone so much more wonderful is coming. John is preparing the way. John is the encourager. John is the builder of a community which in its own life will show the evident signs of the presence of the God they claim to worship.
So it has to be that Christianity has much to say and do about the issues of this world as well as those of the next. All aspects of life — the way we live with and care for each other, our family life, our economic life, our values, our ways of organising ourselves — all the way to matters of life and death, war and peace. These issues are inescapable if we are to take Scriptural passages like this gospel today in any seriousness.
Furthermore, these are not only matters that are appropriately considered privately. These are matters that fundamentally colour our life together, corporately. The values we hold and honour, because of our awareness as a community of the story of our salvation, mean that we have no choice. So faith and trust in Jesus Christ really does mean working hard at a different way of looking at the world and of living.
As the gospel account in Luke unfolds from this morning's arrival of John the Baptist on the scene, Christians and groups of Christians do have an obligation to speak out and to reach out, in order to work towards positive social change. That will mean working to end injustice. That will mean works of charity and mercy. That may mean opposing the powerful. It will mean praying for peace, when all around there are cries of war. John the Baptist's message for us today as Luke presents it is that we need to look and to work at our whole social context, as a fundamental part of the preparation that is necessary, before Christ is to be truly with us and in us.
Further into this year we will be invited to consider again of some of those well-known parables, particularly those in Luke, which so brilliantly capture the human condition, and human frailty. We are challenged again to consider the Lord's definitive summary of the Law — traditionally read at the beginning of each offering of the Eucharist — love God, love neighbour as yourself. This we remember Jesus says is how to shape our living and our believing, if we would be his disciples.
A good Advent reminder is this: take some time to consider again. What is actually important. What is not. A renewed desire for careful and considered discernment. And then perhaps some decisions, some changes in direction. "Prepare the way of the Lord" was the cry in the gospel. Let us receive this as a welcome invitation. We each, both as individuals and as communities, need the gifts of sufficient spiritual openness to be really able to hear and see, spiritually speaking, as these big issues are again placed before us; in the liturgy, in the Scriptures, in prayer certainly, but also just maybe in the major public talking points.
That brings us to an issue that is very much for today. It is impossible not to be considering for instance the fundamental religious principles of our stewardship of this world, in a week when our Federal political scene has been convulsed over major legislation relating to climate change and carbon trading schemes. Australian politics is taking on a new edge. Of course we are all talking about it. Later this week the international climate change conference begins in Copenhagen. There are daily shifts in reports of who is going and when and what might be expected or feared from this gathering. It is certainly of the highest importance.
These are issues that communities of faith cannot ignore. They affect us all. Our parish vision statement clearly claims and acknowledges this fact. These concerns are Christian concerns, Christian obligations. This understanding is slowly but surely being articulated, right across the various Christian traditions and a clear indication of this are the events of this very day here at St Peter's. Come and hear more this afternoon at 5. Two internationally renowned speakers from the evangelical tradition, Tim Costello and Jim Wallis, will be speaking here at The Hill, first in the context of worship and then in a forum style wider discussion in the Parish Hall, organised with us by World Vision.
This event has been arranged through an active partnership across divides of churchmanship in a matter of serious and shared concern. Prayer and praise will be the context for challenging theological reflection. I really hope that a significant number of people from our own tradition will be able to attend and to participate, as we welcome here a number of visitors. We are delighted as a parish to be partners in this critical engagement of our response to these matters of global warming, the environment and climate change, even as leaders from all around the world plan to gather to consider what might be done. This event this afternoon is part of the flow on from the meeting this week at the Melbourne Convention Centre of the Parliament of the World's Religions.
It is a very suitable Advent occasion. The Advent message remains this: even though the times are uncertain, yet there is assurance and hope.
For two thousand years there has been this particular time at the beginning of the Church year when it is made clear that we are waiting, we are anticipating. And what we have experienced so far is only just the beginning. And some work needs to be done if God is going to be able to break through. Some of the work is individual and personal, some is community or indeed global.
Therefore this immediately moves into questions of how we are to choose to live our lives. It is strongly suggested to us that the day-to-day meeting of immediate needs and desires is not enough. The bigger perspective includes God. The bigger perspective, as we have heard, does include accountabilities and responsibilities on a much broader scale.
Advent reminds us of the new starts that are ours for the taking. It reminds us that our spirits and our hearts need to prepare and be prepared. The prophets spoke the promise, John the Baptist threw out the challenge, and Mary made it possible. The gift that is available is 'God with us'. That gift is currently on offer. As the Advent Sunday collect so gently and carefully puts it:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility...
May this be so.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.