Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9; 1Corinthians. 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
Well I wonder what you made of those readings?! In terms of my own theological framework they are way past their use-by date. The one from Isaiah would seem to bear echoes of a volcanic eruption like we are seeing in Bali. But we now know that such cataclysmic events are not the result of an angry vengeful God part about rather are parcel of our planet earth`s dynamism. I did at one point think of just having the Corinthians reading because I think that the apostle Paul could be writing it equally as well to our wonderful community here at Wembley Downs.
So just what does a preacher do when confronted with readings like today? Procrastinate of course, hoping for inspiration. Ah! HOPE now that`s the theme of this Advent Sunday. Could there be a poem online I could have as a reading instead? And I found this one by Emily Dickinson – some of you may have seen the film about her like this year.
`Hope` is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I`ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
Emily Dickinson, 1830 – 1886
And I also thought about Terry Pratchettt`s comment, `Fear is hope turned inside out`! And how the politicians love to use fear to manipulate people and gain power.
My mind also went back to my trip in May including visiting Barcelona`s La Sagrada Familia Cathedral. It was started by Gaudi in 1882 and MAY be finished in 10 years` time - 90 years after his death. It`s being finished by an Australian architect who I think completed the back. For me it is a symbol of hope in that this vision has kept on coming to fruition for the people of Barcelona despite the experiences of a Civil War, a World War, a dictatorship, and a recent terrorist violence. Gaudi loved to incorporate nature into his architecture –as you become aware when you go through the huge front doors covered in metal leaves with animals hiding. But when you walk in, the effect of pillar trees soaring and stained glass seasons windows is absolutely stunning.
I even said to Karen when she rang about the advent wreath that maybe showing some of my photos to meditation music was a fallback possibility!
But apart from lack of inspiration, circumstances also combined to aid my procrastination until yesterday including needing to get the village newsletter out by Wednesday after returning from several weeks holiday. That afternoon when I was at my Women`s Group – (a mix of Catholic, Anglican, Uniting Church members or ex who have been meeting for over thirty years) I started muttering about my dilemma in having to address the concept often labelled `the second coming of Christ` which I just do not believe in as a literal event.
I said to the group the only way I could see this was from a spiritual angle whereby we enter into a different dimension when we die. Perhaps it is then we encounter a second experience of Christ present as a welcoming love. There was agreement that there was indeed a spiritual dimension embedded in the dynamics of the universe. Then we started questioning what I call `the saviour mentality` embedded in this concept which has in turn given us a most worrisome US president backed by strong fundamentalist evangelical Christian attitudes.
In fact I would go so far as to say that believing literally in the second coming of Christ has potential for great danger. In the past it has certainly generated mass hysteria, deaths and domesday cults. Even more scary are those evangelical Christians who support Jewish Orthodoxy wanting to build a third temple in Jerusalem in order to reinstate God`s reign in the world. This of course would mean the destruction of the Moslem Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock Shrine which would lead to an apocalyptic third World War indeed.
Which ironically brings us full circle to the time when Mark`s gospel was being finalised. The earlier part of chapter 13 has Jesus leaving the Temple complex when a follower admires the magnificent buildings. But Jesus replies that not one stone will remain standing, that they would be all thrown down. This is of course exactly what had happened in 70AD with the devastating destruction of Jerusalem. Mark was writing round about that time. And then somewhere in my procrastinations I suddenly realised that the gospel writer in projecting this event backwards as a prophecy is trying to give some sense of hope in his readers` violent and oppressive Roman world.
And then, as I read this article in yesterday`s West Australian titled `Fight for survival in Bangladeshi camps a tale of sadness, courage and strength` I thought about how the Rohinga refugees are in the same situation as many Jews and Christians were back then fleeing from a burning Jerusalem. Where does hope lie for them in all this horror? Presumably with the aid workers and volunteers. Maybe we should be seeing these in terms of Christ present. Certainly, a refugee desperate for medical help for themselves or their child would experience a young medico as a saviour in that moment.
And the realisation hit me that there could be a metaphorical validity to this second coming of Christ concept that we have lost sight of – which is about hope not in terms of apocalyptic judgement but in terms of practical compassion and social justice in action in our human world. In fact Mark uses the phrase `The Son of Man` meaning the Human One. And I remembered this quote by St Augustine who said Hope has two lovely daughters, Anger and Courage.` And he went on to name Hope is the greatest of virtues, for Faith tells us God is, and Love tells us God is good, but it is Hope that tells us God will work, that God wills.
And I also have a quote from Walter Burghardt - You must be men and women of ceaseless hope, because only tomorrow can today`s human and Christian promise be realised; and every tomorrow will have its own tomorrow, world without end. Every human act, every Christian act, is an act of hope. But that means you must be men and women of the present, you must live this moment - really live it, not just endure it - because this very moment, for all its imperfection and frustration, because of its imperfection and frustration, is pregnant with all sorts of possibilities, is pregnant with the future, is pregnant with love, is pregnant with [the] Christ.`
So I want to end now by asking you where do you see signs of Hope in our world?.....