Advent Reflection (8)- Rooted in Reality

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.’

(Romans 15:4, NRSVA)

One of the many things that I love about the Anglican community is their use of the liturgical year. Their journey through the seasons of life, and the great seasons of the Christian Story begins with Advent. As the dark nights lengthen…the Anglican Family, like many others in the Christian traditions, tell the story of the dawning of Hope, Love, Peace and Joy through the Christian Narrative.

One of the many things that I love about the Anglican community is their use of the liturgical year. Their journey through the seasons of life, and the great seasons of the Christian Story begins with Advent. As the dark nights lengthen here in the United Kingdom and therefore in England (the birthplace of the Anglican Community), the Anglican Family, like many others in the Christian traditions, tell the story of the dawning of Hope, Love, Peace and Joy through the Christian Narrative. Candles are lit each Sunday to symbolise the light of these four virtues – hope, love, joy and peace – and to remind us, and perhaps to remind one another, that Christian faith roots us in a greater, better, more powerful story than the one that we so often feel immersed in. Advent spends the first four weeks of the Christian year remembering that God, Who comes to us in Christ, will come again. We live in a waiting period, rooted in the reality of the Virgin Birth, drawn into the chronicles of the Sinless Life, forgiven and redeemed in the Sacrifice and Love of the Atoning Death, comforted in the solidarity of the Physical Death and Burial, buoyed and lifted in the Hope of the bodily Resurrection, emboldened and vindicated by the Ascension and Heavenly Reign, empowered and assured by the Gift of the Spirit and awaiting with anticipation, expectation and resolve the Promised Return – the Eschaton, the Parousia, the Appearing, the Great Victory Parade. Where do we find these particular and specific events, these mysteries detailed, displayed and demonstrated? The Bible.

Advent spends the first four weeks of the Christian year remembering that God, Who comes to us in Christ, will come again. We live in a waiting period, rooted in the reality of the Virgin Birth, drawn into the chronicles of the Sinless Life, forgiven and redeemed in the Sacrifice and Love of the Atoning Death, comforted in the solidarity of the Physical Death and Burial, buoyed and lifted in the Hope of the bodily Resurrection, emboldened and vindicated by the Ascension and Heavenly Reign, empowered and assured by the Gift of the Spirit and awaiting with anticipation, expectation and resolve the Promised Return – the Eschaton, the Parousia, the Appearing, the Great Victory Parade.

The reading from the Epistles for today in the Anglican Liturgy (Advent Sunday 2, Year A if you would like to follow along) is Romans 15:4-13. In it, Paul reminds the believers in Rome, and ultimately us, to hold onto hope. He does do not through a series of self-help lectures or handy hints for how to find this particular gift. Instead he roots hope in the Scriptures. The Great Narrative of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, within the Christian Tradition at least, points to hope. It roots us in hope.  This is a steadfast story – consistent, dependable, focussed. This is also an encouraging story – it has a beginning, a middle and an end; it is the Great Triumph; the Ultimate Victory; the Fundamental re-framing of everything. Paul tells the Roman Christian that the steadfast and encouraging roots of Christian faith found in the Scriptures (and for them and him this was the Hebrew Bible, not the New Testament, which had yet to be either fully written or drawn together in a Canon) traces its way back to God, Who is the God ‘of steadfastness and encouragement’, (verse 5). More specifically, the steadfast and encouraging God is revealed uniquely and powerfully in God’s Son, Jesus Christ – Whose story is found in the same Scriptures.

The Great Narrative of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, within the Christian Tradition at least, points to hope. It roots us in hope.  This is a steadfast story – consistent, dependable, focussed. This is also an encouraging story – it has a beginning, a middle and an end; it is the Great Triumph; the Ultimate Victory; the Fundamental re-framing of everything.

All around us we are presented with different, and lesser, stories about who we are, why we are here and what life is all about. These stories – from secularism to individualism, from hedonism to nihilism, from communism to capitalism, from materialism to asceticism, and many more try to convince us that their version of events and of the meaning of life is true. Whilst many of them contain threads of truth, none of them are true in the way the Story of God, and therefore the story of life and of human purpose is. Communism and socialist fail, ultimately, because they believe that the good intentions of collective government will be honourable – when in the end a government is only as good as the people who run it, and all people are flawed. Capitalism fails because it assumes that people, left to their own devices, will be generous, kind and compassionate – when in the end people are flawed. The same issue means that both ‘isms’ promise what they cannot deliver, because they assume too much good in humans and they fail to see the brokenness of our lives. All ‘isms’ fall at this hurdle in the end. Only Christianity offers a way out of this malaise, by naming our brokenness and selfishness, but also showing us that the Creator has stepped in to rescue and redeem us, and the Creation itself. And where do we find this Great Narrative? Too often we have stopped hearing it from pulpits and from preachers. The Great Rescue (and the Great Challenge that it carries and implies) has been replaced by anecdotes, illustrations, stories to make us laugh and little self-help cameos. The Bible, however, tells us this Great Story. It exposes our frailty and flaws. It presents us with the Solution. It offers us Life, not just existence. It challenges our independence, and it roots it all in the Life and Story of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Communism and socialist fail, ultimately, because they believe that the good intentions of collective government will be honourable – when in the end a government is only as good as the people who run it, and all people are flawed. Capitalism fails because it assumes that people, left to their own devices, will be generous, kind and compassionate – when in the end people are flawed. The same issue means that both ‘isms’ promise what they cannot deliver, because they assume too much good in humans and they fail to see the brokenness of our lives.

That is why we need this Great Story. That is why we need the Bible. That is why Paul could tell us that encouragement, (the bringing of strength), and steadfastness, (being anchored amidst chaos and uncertainty), flow from the Scriptures, which flow from God. We need this Story to be our story because it is only in God that we can find hope to outrun the doubts, fears and nagging questions that seem to chase us. The Story of God becomes our story of hope only when we enter it; and we cannot enter it if we do not know it; and we can only know it through the Scriptures and the Spirit; because the Bible brings us to the Real Story and to the Only One Who can set us free. When He sets us free, however, we will be free indeed – and no other story will ever compare to this.

The Story of God becomes our story of hope only when we enter it; and we cannot enter it if we do not know it; and we can only know it through the Scriptures and the Spirit; because the Bible brings us to the Real Story and to the Only One Who can set us free. When He sets us free, however, we will be free indeed – and no other story will ever compare to this.

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