By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross
Sunday, 27 November, 2016
All Hallows Church, Five Dock, New South Wales
In his book, “The Magician’s Nephew” CS Lewis describes a wood that the children Polly and Digory can reach by magic. This wood is a kind of ‘in between place’ which they call the ‘wood between the worlds’.
From this wood they can enter the world of Charn, a world that is dying. They can also enter Narnia, a new world that is beginning its new life. In this ‘in-between world’ of the wood, time is suspended so they are not able to imagine the adventures waiting for them in Narnia, nor can they recognise the false securities on offer in the world of Charn in its dying moments.
Advent is rather like a wood between the worlds although time is not suspended. It is the beginning of the Christian year anticipating the birth of Jesus when we stand between the world that sees Christ as either nothing more than a good and wise man who is the central figure of a fairy story and the world that sees Jesus as the key to the riddle of life, and the only image of reality we have.
Advent is also the time that we must choose which world we will live in. Will we choose the world of the child, whose birth we anticipate and accept the challenges of living a God-centred life that this child will bring? This is the world in which we ask, “What does God want and how can I achieve it?” Or do we choose the world where this child saviour is irrelevant to the way we live? In this world the only challenge we face is, “what do I want, and how do I get it?”
The season of Advent may only be four week’s long, but in another sense, we are living in an ongoing Advent in which we are waiting for Christ’s return as judge, when God’s kingdom comes in its fullness. In this extended Advent we have to continuously choose which world we wish to live in.
Today’s Scripture readings from Romans and St Matthew, warn us that we can choose to live in this world as if it is the only existence there is, other than seeing if there really is life on Mars. In this world all problems are solvable, and the belief that human beings are able to do so given time and money, is the only security on offer. Until that happens, we wait for the cry, ‘when your numbers up, your numbers up’.
Matthew tells us that Christians know that Christ will return and therefore we must live our lives in the knowledge of that truth and look for the signs of it happening. Before the Boxing Day tsunami some years ago, elephants moved from the plain up into the hills. They read the signs. A young girl who had studied tsunamis at school also read the signs and led her family to safety. Those who didn’t, stood on the beach and took photographs.
Just because we claim to be Christians is no guarantee that we will be free from being taken by surprise at the end. Watch and be vigilant is the cry of Advent.
St Paul is more certain in his writings that the end would come soon but he seems to have got it wrong. In one sense he did but in another sense he didn’t because most of us do not know when and how our end will come although with legislation in the offing about euthanasia, humans will be able to pre- arrange book their death or have it booked without their knowledge. St Paul reminds us that in the midst of life we are in death, and we would be foolish to forget it!
This is why he says we have to wake up because drowsy, suspended animation, is not an option for Christians. We must fight evil and announce that God’s kingdom is here. Why should we do that?
It is Isaiah who tells us why. He gives us an image of the Temple restored to its splendour, located on top of a mountain with people from all nations streaming up to it. They are coming because they are sick of war; they don’t understand the difference between right and wrong any more; they long for a new way of living. They have learned the cost of making wrong choices and now they are searching for a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Our Advent world is real. We too are perhaps witnessing the death throes of Western culture that has marginalised the Christ child and rejected the challenge to live a God-centred life. Instead it chooses to live a self-centred life in which the rights of some individuals are valued over the rights of others.
It is a world in which the dogma of ‘inevitability’ justifies everything, be that concerned with who should be born, when and how we choose to die, and the social engineering of our understanding of the purpose and construct of marital relationships. This is a world of rights not responsibilities, a world of the power of the few over all and a world where each individual is the centre of is or her universe. In this world, truth is what I decide it is today. I made decide something else tomorrow.
Some say that the signs of the end of this civilisation are becoming clearer. Previous civilisations that abandoned God’s direction have collapsed, and that may be the fate that faces our own. Is another religious culture waiting in the wings.
The call to wake up is as necessary in our twenty first century age as it was in the first century AD. Those that are searching for another way are grasping at bizarre and fanciful beliefs which are very self-focused. Yet there are voices that speak out against the evils that we face the Western world.
In our own small way, we too can add our voice if we care to wake up. Don’t let anyone or anything get in the way of your attendance at Mass and Reconciliation, or divert you from prayer, bible reading and study. If we Christians don’t take our faith seriously, why should anybody listen to us or take notice of us? Apathy is cancerous to Christianity. Individually we may not be able to change the world, but we can change some people’s world by helping them choose which world they want to live in – God’s or their own.
So wake up – it is Advent.