Our Gospel reading today comes from a chapter of the Bible (Mark 13) which is full of imagery of the world shaken to the core, of destruction, suffering and war. And perhaps this seems to be a description of today: when we open a newspaper or watch news reports, we could be overwhelmed by the accounts of the corona virus, of political squabbling, of violence, corruption, natural disasters and famine.
But we read this passage today because it is both a warning and a hope. The barren stems of the fig tree do grow green again. If we look, we can find examples of this every day all around us. For me, this week, one that stands out is the story of how ex-convict John Crilly’s life has been turned around by the mentoring and loss of London Bridge victim Jack Merritt, and by the Merritt family’s message of forgiveness to his murderer.
Hope triumphs over the bleakness – Jesus tells his disciples what is true – that whatever happens, though the world be destroyed, his promise, his words, will never be destroyed.
We remind ourselves of this hope in the darkness as we light our first Advent candle this morning. We are encouraged by recalling the words of John’s gospel In him there was life. That life was light for the people of the world. The Light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overpowered the Light (John 1:4-5). Advent is the season of looking forward in thankfulness and hope to the coming of Jesus into the world, looking forward to Emmanuel, God-With-Us, teaching us, reshaping us and restoring us.
The parable Jesus used in our Gospel reading today: of the servants making ready as they wait for the master – speaks into this. The servants are not told to sit back and wait patiently for the master. No – they are given jobs to do and told to take care of the house and to keep a look out for the master so that everything is ready for when he comes. And for the house to be ready the servants must be ready. As Jesus then says, I tell you this, and I say it to everyone: Be ready! (Mark 13:37).
Being ready involves making ready. It is a process, and processes take time. So let us take time for Advent: not to be so busy rushing forwards in eagerness of anticipation towards Christmas the celebration, that we fail to accept Advent as a gift of space in which we can REPAIR in order to PREPARE.
So, may we take time to make ourselves ready for what theologian Karl Rahner has described as the inbreaking of the Lord’s presence in the present, becausethis is not about looking forward to celebrating a birthday but of being blessed by the earth-shattering, turn-everything-upside-down, transforming gift of life in Christ.
May we take time to look for where God is at work in the world around us, in situations and in the people we meet – the lovely people, the people we struggle to love, the brief encounter. May we pause each day to look for where God is present in our own lives – in the good moments, in the struggles, in the mundane.
The more we are alert and on the look-out for the presence of God, the more we will find God in the present.
And may we take time throughout this Advent to be thankful.
Bishop Tom Wright has written eloquently, in his book Surprised By Hope, how the hope we are given for the future, in Christ, gives purpose to our present. As Wright puts it, the gospel invitation is not simply tick this box and one day you will go to heaven; rather it is a call to follow Jesus.
So what might ‘being called’ look like? This is impossible to answer, because it will look different for each of us. But whatever it looks like, we know that we can have confidence in exploring and responding to this call because, as Paul told the Corinthians, In every way you have been enriched in Christ, in speech and knowledge of every kind …. So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor.1:5, 7).
Whatever the experience of your relationship with God, and your understanding of where he is calling you, may I invite you to use this Advent to delve deeper.
The Diocese has produced two very helpful tools to support this seeking and making ready, which I encourage you to use:
- Gifts for everyday faith: a self-administered survey which can help you review and discover your particular strengths and what makes you flourish as a Christian and as a member of a Christian community.
You can use this as the starting point for exploring how to use and develop your gifts, perhaps in discussion with friends in the Church. It is important to remember not only that these gifts are from God to you, but that through you they become gifts to the whole community of the Church. In the gospel parable, all the servants were given tasks and together as a team they carried the responsibility of being ready. In the epistle, Paul is writing to the Corinthians as people and as a community of the early Church together.
- Personal Discipleship Plan: a way of engaging in an accompanied faith journey. Using a PDP, in a relaxed and informal way you can explore and grow how you live out the gospel every day of the week, supported by a trained mentor or encourager.
- There is also a great resource page with links to lots of different support material, including links to reflections, meditations, prayer and bible reading resources.
Please see the URL below to the page with all these resources.
May I wish you a blessed and hope-filled new church year.
Links / References:
Diocese of Oxford, Everyday faith: Identifying your gifts and developing a Personal Discipleship Plan
Wright, Tom, Surprised by hope. Reissued ed. London: SPCK, 2011