By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross
Sunday, 04 December, 2016
St Ninians & St Chads Church, Maylands, Perth
Some poets write about it; musicians create it most of the time; novelists often long for it; protesters sometimes demand it and the environmentalists claim to work for it. A longing for harmony lies deep in the human heart, for when there is harmony and balance, there is peace and unity. In such harmony we can be who we truly are.
The colour green is generally interpreted as a sign of hope because it is a sign of growth. In our dry and dusty land the green of the Advent wreath is a reminder of the new life of God’s Kingdom we are invited to embrace and grow.
Hildegard of Bingen wrote in the 12th century of the greening power of God, referring to the new life that Jesus brought to a dry and dusty humanity. Is it fair to say that God is the original true greenie?
Some 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the Middle East was dominated by the king of Assyria. Any nation that resisted him paid a very heavy price, and the northern kingdom known as Israel was one nation that paid that price. Israel was destroyed as a nation and never recovered. Despite watching this, Hezekiah, the king of the southern kingdom of Judah, still resisted the Assyrians. The armies of Assyria massed at the gates of Jerusalem in 701 BC, but without explanation, withdrew without laying siege to the city. This withdrawal was interpreted as being due to God’s direct intervention. The kingdom of Judah survived for the present, to be destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC.
It was during this period of bruised survival that the prophet Isaiah lived, and he offered the people an image of a king of the line of David who would exhibit all the qualities that a king was supposed to have. Endowed with God’s spirit, this king would rule as God’s representative. He would possess the gifts of wisdom, have the ability to make right judgments and act upon them, and finally, he would possess piety.
This king would defend the rights of the poor and destroy those who oppressed them. There would be a Paradise type harmony in which all violence ceased and the whole earth would be filled with the knowledge of God.
No doubt some godly people hoped that each of David’s successors would make this picture a reality. That did not happen, so rather than abandon the hope, the people looked forward to the coming of God’s Messiah who would usher in God’s age of harmony and peace.
Isaiah had probably no idea who the Messianic king would be, but there is no doubt for Christians. The Church has identified him as Jesus, and the Christian story is told with that belief as its foundation. The promised new age of God’s kingdom was spoken of by Jesus, who through the power of love, defeated evil which prevents God’s Kingdom from growing. Even so, evil still makes its presence felt in the world. It still creates chaos and disfigures God’s image in us. The war may be won, but battles still rage on, and it falls to those of us who have caught the vision of the Kingdom to fight them. We do so with trust in God’s faithfulness that his will be done. It is this call to active service while waiting on the Lord that is the focus of Advent.
The imminent arrival of God’s Kingdom was announced by John the Baptist. He stepped on to the stage of the history of the people of Israel from the very same desert that they had crossed when God had rescued them from Egypt. John promised that there would be a new deliverance led by one whose sandals he was not fit to unloose. The baptism that John offered was only an outward sign of the inward changes that were necessary before it was too late. John’s intention was to change people into human beings whose virtues outnumbered their vices. He wanted to turn them into people who pro-actively embraced God’s values, so their lives would be in harmony with themselves, with others, with the environment and above all, with God.
John warned the people, and in particular the Pharisees, that claiming the right pedigree of descent from Abraham was in itself, no guarantee of salvation, just as being baptized as a Christian without an attempt to lead a Christ-like life, is no guarantee of salvation. Saying the right words and empty pious ritual would not do.
St Paul instructs the Christians in first century Rome how they should behave. New converts would have come from the pagan world where the strong oppressed the weak, but in the Christian world Paul is urging the strong to make accommodation for the weak, so that the unity of the Church might be preserved.
Because God loves us, we should love each other. The problem with love is it cannot be pinned down, and it is certainly impossible to create a set of laws or develop a code of behaviour which boxes love in. Once a rule is written down there is a risk that people will obey the rule rather than act out of the love that lies behind the rule. Legalism, not loving care is the result. It is loving care, while obeying God’s and the Church’s rules that Pope Francis is asking for.
Love is wanting and working for the good of the one who is loved. No one can be made to love, and no one can be made to respond to love that is offered. It is freely offered and received. We may not always know what the most loving thing to do might be, but we have a good idea of what it is not. So at least we can avoid that.
In Advent we look forward to Christmas, and as the hymn puts it, “Love came down at Christmas.” It is God’s love that created us, love that redeemed us, love that empowers us, and so the least we can do in thankful response is love him in return and help create his Kingdom in which peace and harmony will reign.