Spending two days at a Christian Aid conference in the first week of Advent brought to life the whole meaning and theological significance of the Advent season.
Advent is about light and darkness and we must ask, what about the darkness? What about the reality for those whose lives are lived abject grinding poverty? What about those whose lives are beyond our imaginations?
I have been to grim places, but only briefly, a few awkward words and then back to the Jeep or the Land Rover to move on somewhere else, leaving behind those who will never be able to go anywhere.
What about the darkness in our world? Saint Paul says in the Epistle to the Romans that, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” The day is coming when Jesus will come and will establish his Kingdom of peace and justice and righteousness. In a vision from Isaiah we read, Jesus “will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore”.
I don’t know about the darkness in our world, but what I do know is that if I didn’t have confidence in those words of Saint Paul, I would see no point in life.
I need to believe the mystery of which Paul speaks, the coming of a new day, because if I didn’t then I would have to conclude that those who struggle for fairness and justice in this world are living pointless lives.
I first went to the Philippines in 1991. When I was there a priest was murdered because he had campaigned for poor landless people.
I went to his wake. There was a confidence there that one day a time would come when there would be Justice in the world, that God would reward his people. If Isaiah’s vision is not to be fulfilled, if the night is not nearly over, then what is the Christian faith about?
The season of Advent is the season of looking forward to the establishment of Christ’s reign. It is no accident that the people who dismiss the hope of a new heaven and new earth are mostly people from rich countries. If you have a comfortable life, if you have everything you need, it’s much easier to believe that this is all there is.
The poor would read Paul’s words, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” and in them they would find hope, in them they would find a purpose in life, in them they would find the encouragement to go on.
It is easier to ignore Paul’s warnings. It is easier just to carry on as we are—to observe Advent as a season of Christmas shopping and pretend that we are unaware that there is a day of judgement to come. But that’s not God’s way of seeing things.
“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light”.