Advent 1 2007

Parish Communion, St Mary's Church, Barton-on-Humber
December 2 2007 (Advent 1) 09:30
Written and delivered by the Rev. David Rowett

It could have been worse, couldn't it? Gillian Gibbons, she of the Sudanese Teddy Bear incident, got away with a few days in prison and will probably arrive home with the same number of limbs as she left with. Why all the fuss? And though it's good to know from the point of view of public safety that a number of nototious old murders and disappearances - about five at my last count - are on their way to being cleared up, it doesn't make much difference to the victims, does it? Why do we get so worked up about it?
It is, of course, because there's something about justice which cries out to be met. That the wicked should prosper or the innocent be made to suffer lies at the heart of one of our great human agonies, and when that suffering or that prospering cannot be laid conveniently at God's door we get deeply disturbed. "What's wrong with God?" is a question which can be hurled around fairly cheaply. "What's wrong with us?" is usually much more painful to think about, and to see the triumph of justice is some sort of reassurance and consolation that sometimes things can be put right - or at least a bit less wrong.
As we enter Advent, we're invited to consider the Last Judgement and all that stuff, as we all know. And the 'Day of wrath, and doom impending' flavour of the season allied with the purple and the lack of flowers inevitably leads us into a Little Lent, even if the rest of the world's happily hauling out the trimmings. Time to abstain from earthly joys, pour itching powder into our socks and generally be miserable while everyone else is getting plastered.
You'll have got the hang of my style well enough by now to know that's not the way I'm thinking. The purple season of Advent is, and should be, completely different from that of Lent. The roots of Lent's forty days - all too soon upon us this year! - are to be found in people preparing to take the huge - and potentially dangerous - step of baptism, or about to be readmitted to Church life after some very serious offence.
Advent's different. The Anglican Church describes it as a period of 'joyful expectation' - but I reckon that the Day of Wrath stuff, especially as put forward by people like Calvin, has rather stripped away the joy, and so the expectation is that of standing outside a head teacher's study waiting for the worst.
Which is why I started with these stories about justice denied and justice delayed. We know why these headlines were important, even if we might struggle to explain it. If someone asked what practical difference it all made, we could talk about 'taking a danger off the streets' and the like, but we know it's more than just that. It's something to do with the torn fabric of life being woven together again, even if it can't bring the past back.
When we enter the Advent season, we are entering a time of longing for ancient injustices and cruelties to end. We are crying out for justice, for a broken word to be restored, for our wounds to be bound up. The Bay in the Manger story is all very well, but where does it go? And we can even treat the Cross and Resurrection as nice little tales from long ago, leading nowhere in particular except to a vague hope that death doesn't get the last word.
But this poor, overshadowed, crowded out season of Advent holds the key to making sense of it all - the hope that one day justice will be done. We plead for mercy ourselves, for none of us has entirely clean hands, that's life - but as long as we recognise within ourselves that thirst for justice, for wrong to be righted, for light to burn away the darkness, we're keeping the Advent hope alive. It is the Advent hope which makes sense of the story of Jesus, from cradle to grave to Easter, the hope that - one day - all shall indeed be well - including you and including me.


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David Rowett (web page by Adrian Worsfold)