Chocolate calendars, numbed shopping malls, new oil deals, and an unHoly Land. Dare we pray the prayer of Advent? Dare we not?
It is easy to become disillusioned, despairing almost, of the direction of travel that we, as a global species, appears to be taking. Western society seems infatuated with technological ‘progress’ irrespective of cost or consequence, and commercial interests have come to dominate most decision-making. How many sci-fi films do we need to warn us before the ultimate destination of, for example, artificial intelligence, is inevitable? But the alternative rise of so-called ‘populism’ demonstrates a dark, fear-driven revolt against the perceived threat to self-interest. The ‘other’, the ‘not us’, has become a target to rail against, to blame; exactly what happened in 1930s Germany.
There are those who work behind the scenes, refusing to give in to these seemingly insurmountable forces, whose agenda is to help bring about a better world where care and kindness towards people and environment are the measure of our action and ‘telos’, or endpoint. But their gains are hard won and easily overturned.
Prophets have rarely been popular figures. Their warnings and offers of an alternative way upset too many, especially those with something to lose. The way we have structured our societies places inordinate power, and therefore trust, in the hands of the few. Whether they be public politicians who make laws and direct policies, hoping to keep our vote, or private board-room directors who exploit human weakness and need, for power and wealth, their decisions shape our society, subtly influencing our values, often cynically, by making us feel inadequate compared to others, and then appealing to the self in us to become like them. Perhaps we need a few more David Attenboroughs who can command our respect and affection while encouraging us to walk a different path, the path of compassion and care for creation.
This ‘different path’ is the Advent calling, set, as it is, in the approach to the darkest part of the year, when the forces that would exploit us by playing to our interests of self-preservation are most powerful. The prayer ‘Come’ requires us to prepare ourselves, to be brutally honest about who we are, both in our vulnerability and in our self-interest. For when we are, terrifying as this may be, we are met by the One who loves us with a passion that will lead him to the Cross on our behalf.
Dare we pray the prayer? Dare we not?
The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for Advent Sunday 2023 can be found here.