What does ‘Advent’ have to do with Climate Change? To put it another way and to borrow an analogy from a Church Father – what does Copenhagen have to do with Jersualem? To understand the connection, we need to first understand Advent.
Advent is no longer noticed – let alone observed! The season of longing, yearning and repentance has been replaced by an ever earlier marketting strategy for Christmas. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Christmas and look forward to it every year – but I also love advent. I don’t like Christmas beginning at the end of October, though! I don;t think we have banished advent just because of commercialism, though – I think Christians have become so secularised that we have abandoned the challenge of advent.
This isn’t the fault of tele-evangelists and pedlers of cheap, easy religion and a ‘come to Jesus and He’ll do whatever you want, whenever you need Him to’ mentality. I don’t want to have a ‘pop’ at the gifts and the lights and the family feel of Christmas – and I don’t want to sound like a charismatic ‘scrouge’ bemoaning the society I am part of. Far from it – I thinl the reason we have largely ditched advent is because we don’t understand it anymore.
What is Advent?
Some clues might be found in one of the figures that is associated with it – John the Baptist. ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand’ he thunders (Matthew 3:2). Mark says John ‘appeared’ in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. when John was thrown in jail, Jesus also is noted this way, ‘From that time on Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 4:17). Jesus also told his disciples to preach the same thing.
Advent, it seems to me, is much more about reflection and repentance and vulnerability than Christmas. Advent is about renewal and honesty in and about ourselves, in the light of Christ’s promised return. But we shouldn’t turn ‘repentance’ of John’s sort into a purely private matter – it’s about a whole creation being brought back into right relationship with and right order before God. John is clear about the reason for this repentance – God’s Kingdom is coming, God is sorting things out (eschatology for those who want a big word before supper!) John is like an old fashioned watchman warning people, princes and principalities and powers that the coming of the Lamb of God signifies the beginning of the end for a crumbling order of selfishness, greed and pride. He is giving notice of war with sin – personal, communal and corporate.
Advent, therefore, is perhaps one of the most political seasons of the Christian year – and this year the Copenhagen Summit on climate change happens right in the middle of it.
Our faliure to understand this season is connected with our lack of understanding of the connection between the First Coming of Christ and the Second Advent. Persistent quietism of pastors, preachers an teachers about the Second Coming has led to a detached and hostile approach to the world and our place in it. We have departed from the biblical narrative of a redeemed and renewed earth which will be finalised and completed by Christ at His return but was begun when He first came – leaving us the exciting role of being ‘inbetweeners’ – people who live in the glorious rays of the first coming and the clear hope of the second with the commission to be kingdom bringers. Instead, we like to think of a departure, a leaving behind the rotten world and its mess and living somewhere ‘out there’ free from all responsibility of care for the planet. Of course such simplistic theology is amplified through teh speakers of series such as ‘Left Behind’ novels and preachers whose passion is to pinpoint a date for departure rather than remind us of the responsibility to serve, invest and spend ourselves for the people around us and the planet which God has entrusted to us. Perhaps the greatest criticism of much of the church in the 20th and 21st century will be the absolute failure of most of us to take our responsibilities for the planet and its people seriously enough. The one God called to be stewards have become squanderers.
As a result, we have allowed the powerful influence of the promised return of Christ to be hijacked by quacks, astrologers, and weird cults and theories (some within the ‘church). The connection between the two advents needs to be re-discovered – and in doing so we re-discover something of our own calling and direction.
In the comings of Jesus (first and second) the nations, principalities and powers and judged – and defeated, by God’s Word to us. In Christ’s lordship all of the earth and all of the heavens and everything else is rendered accountable. A response from us to the state of the world is not requested by Christ – the advents demand it. To quote John ‘bear fruit that befit repentance.’
Another key figure in Advent is Mary. Her words are even more political than John
He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted those of low degree; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away enpty (Luke 1:52-54)
Climate change is largely man made and its injustice means that the squandering of the rich and powerful has forced the poor and dispossessed to suffer even more. We are answerable to the Returning King for this travesty and complete reversal of the purpose and message of the coming of Christ – and He will ask us why we did not respond to His Word.
In the first advent, Christ the Lord comes into the world, in the next advent, Christ the Lord comes as Judge of all the world, its thrones, powers, kings, prime ministers, politicans, pretenders, sovereigns, dominions, principalities, authorities, presidencies, regimes, scientists, philosophers and people. What a travesty if we, His people, end up in the place where we ignore His teaching on our responsibilities. He comes as the God of creation – but He also comes as the God of History – the God who sees and knows all things.
This is what our society (and perhaps even we as His followers) re-act against – yet it is the hope that should keep us going and hold light before us as the world ‘melts’ – but we must remember that we live between two advents.
God help us to be sensible in Copenhagen and view it in the glaring light not only of Bethlehem, where Your Son was born, but also Jersualem, where He died and one day will stand again.