This week has been one full of the conflicts and tensions of our contemporary world, for example: the continuing aftermath of the Paris shootings and the war in Syria; the re-occurrence of Black Friday; the Lord’s Prayer advert ban; more child sex-abuse investigations and further revelations about racism in the police force not to mention the upcoming climate summit in Paris. All of these complex problems define our contemporary world – how we respond to them as faithful Christians is a matter of debate and concern.
Take the Lord’s Prayer advert-ban – questions have rightly been raised about its impact upon the right to freedom of religious expression. It also reflects the way that religion and prayer has become highly politicised – which isn’t just about a secular, political-correctness. We are faced with jihadist terrorism, which uses Islam for its own violent ends. Should we then bomb
What of Syrian refugees and the radicalisation that happens in the Syria . It’s one of
the reasons why as a church we remain committed to promoting interfaith
relations and dialogue, because the victimisation of Muslims or those of any
faith is bad for our society. All people of good will have good reason to meet
together. All this of course feels like
déjà vu; we really have been here before – which suggests we are struggling to
find an effective way to combat this particular form of extremist terrorism. Mixed
in with these major global challenges is that from one angle we seem less and
less able to deal with them, for example, there is the continuing erosion of trust in
our public institutions – the police, as well as the church, judiciary and
politicians. We are indeed living in times where the foundations of our common
life feel like sand. The only certainty is the narrative of commercialism and
the freedom of big corporations, banks or multinationals to determine the values
at work in our daily lives. UK
The question is how aware are we of this and did we consent to it? Have we collectively sold our souls and to whom? To have sold our souls and not to know it is like scoring an own goal: joy quickly melts to leave disorientation and confusion.
In to this collective blindness and common death walks Jesus – wake up, be ready, stay awake, be alert! We need to be shaken awake from the unconscious deep sleep we’ve been lured into by worry and fear of each other. Jesus tells his disciples, in the apocalyptic mode, to read the signs of the times and not to be unduly worried by the problems and concerns of the complex troubled world in which they live.
Sometimes, however, Advent becomes a glorification of some sort of peaceful waiting and watching, but the sense we get from apocalyptic literature is not someone waiting in an idyllic garden for a sense of the divine, but rather, someone on the watchtower, being constantly surrounded by attacks, disorder and invasions, but amidst it all waiting for the signs of God – waiting for Jesus to descend again – showing resolve in the middle of the battle, resisting giving a false alarm.
Of course apocalyptic literature and Advent are only part of the Christian story, there are times and plenty of them when an active engagement in the world and a commitment to reforming it is absolutely essential. But Advent with its themes of the end times and final judgment reminds us that we are truly not in overall control; that we have already been saved and that part of our work is to be faithful in waiting for the final salvation of our world. And that can make us feel forgotten, irrelevant, marginal, and insignificant as well as above the crowds, looking elsewhere for meaning and substance. Well, that describes the Christian calling – the practice of looking elsewhere, being a look out, because who knows when the crowd might really need the help of the watchman? We have to remain faithful and alert, who else will? And being faithful demands a whole host of different responses in different situations. For example, one might be that we will keep saying the Lord’s Prayer in season and out of season; if we are banned or if we are listened to; if we are relevant or if we are marginalised; if we are many or if we are few.