Mark Rowland, Chaplain, reflects on the start of advent in the first of our Thought for the Day series of podcasts.
Hello I’m Mark Rowland and welcome to Thought for the Day.
For many Christians, this week is the first of Advent. It’s actually my favourite season of the church’s year because I find its themes so powerful and so often relevant to much of what we face in life. Advent is often described as a time of preparation for Christmas. While it is that, I always feel that undersells it a bit. It’s not just, or even mainly, about clearing up, Christmas shopping, planning carol services and all of that. Advent takes us deeply into that sense that there is something about the world that isn’t quite right. Advent pulls into sharp focus that we live in a world where there is violence and war. Where people go hungry and thirsty. Where not everyone has a safe place to call home. Where relationships get broken and families torn apart. Where disease limits life and extinguishes possibility. Where a beautiful creation is polluted and defiled. I could go on… Advent is real about the pain of the world.
In Advent we read about the ancient longings of God’s people for the time when God’s chosen one – the Messiah – would bring an end to all of these things. When war, hunger and injustice would be no more.
I wonder what you are hoping for today. Many of us will be hoping for the end of the pandemic. Some of us might be wondering about the future and what comes next after our courses are complete. Others might be facing serious situations in life and trying to see what to do. Some of us might be looking forward to a break, even if it’s not likely it normally would be. Advent is a time when all this longing and expectation can come to the surface. In solidarity with God’s people through the ages, we long for a better world.
We often read from these ancient writings at this time, in which the prophets challenge the injustice of the world and offer a vision of a better day. Isaiah in chapter 11 puts it this way, speaking of God’s coming rule, personified in God’s chosen one:
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
This poetic vision sets a contrast to the pain of the world we know today. It sets a contrast to a world of competition and striving to be top. It points us to a community of peace and hope.
In Advent we’re again confronted with the pain of the world and our longing for its wholeness. We’re given a vision of hope and peace. Whatever you’re facing today or in the weeks ahead, look for signs of hope. Remember that this is not for ever. Fix your eyes again on a world of justice and compassion.