Advent Peace

By Anne Ryan

Preparation – for an event – on 26th of Dec most of us – all over bar the washing up and putting out the garbage.  

John the Baptist was an enigma – a strange man who wandered around in the desert wearing strange gear and spouting weird stuff about the coming of the messiah – repentance – signs of the times and even sone scary stuff directed at some of the more the religious people.  

We might think it’s a bit strange that in Advent we have this very un-Christmasy reading.  What has all that strange prophecy and vision stuff about esp at this time of year.  

John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus making the road straight, quoting Isaiah in the Old Testament.  Sometime not long after Jesus’ baptism by John in John’s gospel Jesus passes by John who is sitting with a couple of his disciples – John identifies Jesus as the Messiah and all John’s disciples just up and leave him and follow Jesus – leaving John to go on alone.  Then, not long after John is arrested and sometime in the middle of Jesus’ ministry John is executed and beheaded.  

Feel a bit sorry for John – all that time wandering around in the desert, looking and talking like a wild man – preaching and baptising people,   John was in prison for political reasons. As far as personal situations go, it’s hard to feel much lower than that. He’s the one who baptized Jesus at the beginning, but now we’ve skipped a year or two to this new pseudo-encounter. Maybe John is wondering if all that baptizing, wearing odd clothing, eating weird food, and preaching in the wilderness meant anything at all. It certainly hasn’t made John’s own life any better off.   So what was the point? Has the whole trajectory of John’s adult life been for nothing? 

Then he had that one extraordinary encounter where he got to be an integral part of the beg of Jesus life as the anointed one as Jesus is Baptised, but and then – arrest and death.   He never got to see the outcome of the whole life of Jesus the Christ.  He never got to witness the death and the resurrection, the coming of the HS at Pentecost – the formation of the church.  He prepared people but didn’t live to see the outcome.

Reminds me of a sermon I preached in the mid 1980’s.  I was a member of a church in the CBD in Sydney -Pitt St UCA which had a lot of Gay and Lesbian member. I had preached there a couple of times when I was a theological student.  One of the members approached me to preach for an annual gathering of a group called the Ecumenical Lesbian and Gay Christian Network {?} I was a bit taken a back as I was only a student and I am straight, but I agreed. Their tradition was to meet for a service together on a Sunday evening in Advent.  I preached on advent as a time of waiting and preparing for the coming of the Christ who brings justice, inclusion, equality, peace, wholeness.  But knowing that these were not a current reality for the LGBTIQ+ community and may not be in our lifetimes.  That’s the rub –  it’s still Advent – So forward 35 years and when TUC started RCA .  I was leading RCA the Sunday evening after Parliament had voted to allow same sex marriage.  I ferreted out my old sermon – handwritten on paper – which had gone old, brittle, and yellowed.  I held that old sermon as I told them about the sermon I’d preached that night and now – and reflecting that in this one way at least Christmas has come!  

For the marginalized people, those whose voice is not listened to, there is the hope of the end to their suffering a new age of peace, justice, inclusion, equality.  Sometimes The kingdom comes at Christmas the celebration of Christ coming into the world and into our lives, and for many – and for all of us at sometime or other it’s still Advent– still waiting, still praying for peace, still protesting still hanging in there.    Like J the B spending his life preparing himself and the people and the religious institutions for the coming of Christ, being persecuted, jailed, finally killed for political gain by the powers of death. He was always living in Advent – always waiting, peace never arriving.  

I had a minister friend Russell Davies who was the minister at Marrickville when I was at Glebe and we both served on various committees and meetings for several years.  We often sat around and talked over coffee after the meetings.  In 1994 Nelson Mandela became the first President of the new non-apartheid South Africa.  While we all excited and happy, Russell was beside himself with joy.  He said – I came to faith praying for South Africa  – never thought it was possible that I’d see this happen in my life time.  It is such a fulfilment of my hope in Christ.   His joy was infectious … and later I was reflecting on that experience of Russell’s faithfulness in prayer and in action fighting to an end to the apartheid regime and all those thousands of others who fought and prayed.  I know Russell would never have waivered in his prayer and protest even if he had to do it to the day he died he would have.  And there were many untold thousands of faithful prayers and protested who did not live to see the end of apartheid come.   

I also know that Russell continues to pray for South Africa, as the tasks of bringing in the peace of Kingdom of God never end.  As exciting and inspiring as the dismantling of apartheid was, we know that that wasn’t the end of South Africa’s struggles.  Violence still reigns.  They still need our prayers and always will.   

Mark makes it clear that we are living in the inbetween times, The space where we live with signs of the fulfilment of the coming of the kingdom, we see acts of self giving, bravery, kindness, sacrifice all around us and at the same time we live also in the space of not yet,  where wars and rumours of are all over the world, climate change, nuclear arms, massive “defence” budgets.    Mark is calling us to see and celebrate the signs of peace, love and justice around us – and, at the same time – pray and act in protest to the evil, hatred. violence and abuse of power that occupy so much of our society.

And we pray of peace and justice in Palestine/Israel, Ukraine, and – Syria, Congo Eritrea – We look at the serious dangerous divide in US society,

We feel we are living in dangerous and distressing times.   If we know any history at all we also know that every generation has had its dangerous times.  And we are not alone in history feeling the touch of the edge of despair as we look on the world in which we are living.   

Many have gone before us in grappling with the power of hopelessness that there will ever be true peace and are tempted to lose heart.   Why go on praying and protesting for peace in Israel/Palestine when we know that the future is likely to be more bleak than the present.   

Things look (and perhaps are) bad, they may get worse – it does not mean God has abandoned us, forsaken us or that we are lost.

 Sometimes when we aren’t seeing the results we’d hoped for, sometimes when our lives aren’t the way we need and want them to be, we need to look a little differently at kingdom signs. If you felt a personal blow this year, look at those people and events that have brought you hope and peace. If you felt a political blow, look at the long arc of history to the people who’ve worked for justice and have seen success as well as setback. Find ways to centre yourself in peace.

Hopelessness is, honestly, sometimes justified. But Jesus calls us to look differently in order to see what we’ve been missing.

So, if even if we feel overwhelmed with despair. God doesn’t mind. God just continues to call us on –  don’t give up – despite appearances, the kingdom is here in glimpse if we pay attention and we are always called to be part of the work of the ongoing Kingdom always coming closer.


 
 

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Written by Anne Ryan

The Reverend Anne Ryan is a retired Uniting Church minister who lives in Canberra. Anne was the minister at Tuggeranong Uniting from 2011 to 2018. In retirement, Anne supports several churches by assisting with their worship.

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