Out of the darkness comes…

Dear Santa Claus, St. Nick, Sant Claus, Bishop Nicolas of Myra died AD343 origin of the fable of fables, Story of stories, giver of gifts by stealth, childhood fantasy of dreams and visions, nighttime visitor, time engineer extraordinaire, magical mystery maker, bringer of wishes, keeper of ‘The List’ – Naughty and Nice.

Children wait in their beds half sleeping, half dreaming of satsumas and chocolate coins, (well, now I’m dreaming). Cutting through the darkness, expected to come for nothing less than to fulfil our deepest desires and for a mince pie, sherry and carrot for the reindeer.  Did you too get fed this story as a child or were your parents brave enough to tell you the truth?  That there is no Christmas unless we make it happen for ourselves. We can blame others this year that they’ve ‘cancelled Christmas’ but no-one cancels it unless we do it to ourselves. So, it’s up to us to be witnesses to the light in the darkest of times. It’s our task again this year to bring to birth the Christ child, the true light that was and is coming into the world.

But all we have is this darkness to work with.  The darkness I’m told is an absence of light. Is that all? I must disagree to say into the void that the darkness is so much more. A place of beginning. Of expectation. Of Potential. Of Dreams unborn. Of Waiting. Of Depth. A place to hold the despair into which we cry our tears of mourning and of sorrow for that which pulls at our hearts and leaves us with that gut wrenching emptiness as if there will be no dawning at the end of this long winter night. (Call it 2020 if you like)  And into this: Wilderness, exhausted, a voice cries out.  One small voice. When we are at our darkest and deepest moments of despair. When we too want to shout into the darkness – and by the way the darkness can take it all, whatever it is we need to shout.  When we name our fears, our despairs, our sorrows and expectations, our disappointments and unrealised dreams – when we let the darkness have them all; then we can begin to make it through. We need to go through the pain of being in the darkness to bring to birth the christ. 

Advent is not only a time for waiting, but also for preparation. Our task in preparation is creating the space to allow the Christ to come to birth. Among you stands one whom you do not yet know says John the Baptist to those who follow him out into the darkness, into the wilderness, searching for something that will bring healing in a time of desperate pain. This is where it begins. The slow bringing to birth begins in the darkness, in brokenness.  John the Baptist points the way to Christ, just as little Saint Nick the boy bishop of Myra did in the 4th century.  The darkness is where it begins with the small moments that bring in the light.  A moment spent on a doorstep offering a card, a moment on a video singing a song alone that becomes a choir of joy for others. Small moments of beauty and the time taken to stand and watch what unfolds yes, even in the darkness, especially in the darkness. Small moments of time offered, given for others, moments of love and even gifts given in the spirit of St. Nicolas.  As we prepare to remember a moment in time, the birth of the baby, the real moment, the birth of the Christ was the moment Mary said her yes and opened her heart to the possibility of what seemed impossible.  The idea of God away in the heavens and unreachable would instead come close. Perhaps that’s why John the Baptist points to the crowd and says one among you. There is one among you whom you do not know who embodies the christ and for us too, there can be one among us.  It can be each of us, unknown to ourselves this advent, each one of us, if our hearts are open to the possibility of small moments of transformation. Then comes born to us the Christ-mas in the reconciliation of all things.

Expectations for Christmas Stockings

I wonder what our expectations might be this advent as we begin our journey towards the celebration of the birth of Jesus once again this year? I suspect we will have rather conflicting expectations not least because of the ongoing pandemic, the last stand of the British Empire, aka Brexit. The rather sad image of a man clinging desperately on to power that has already slipped from his grasp and the economic doom being forecast as countless people loose jobs and income due to the failure of businesses built on consumerism that some thought would never end. Then there is the uncertainty over the latest COVID regulations designed to keep us safe but destined to confuse the vast majority at the same time. I misread the text of Mark where it says: ‘Beware, keep awake.’ I heard, ‘Beware, keep apart.’ How these messages filter into our minds. There is a marked difference between the healthy watchfulness that Mark commends and a mistrustful fear of the other. Our Gospel reading for this first Sunday in Advent begins, not at the beginning, but at the beginning of the end. We’ll return to the first chapter of Mark next week. As Advent starts though, we are reminded of the end game. “in those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” So what’s going on? It seems to me quite apt for the state we’re in and far from the cautiously expectant preparations we might all be engaged in as December comes quietly upon us. For every beginning there is an ending and so forth. It seems to me we are engaged in a struggle for the very soul of our nation, the world even. The apocalyptic nature of Mark 13 was meant to be dramatic, to call people to be ‘awake’, to take note of the lessons of nature, the trees must lose their leaves before the new are grown. Jesus’ words preparing those who wish to reconstruct the old order into the new will not fall away. New wine needs new wine skins. A new order needs a new model. Out of death comes new life. It makes sense as we struggle at the dark end of 2020 politically, socially, morally and economically. You can’t tweak capitalism into being ecological, or into caring for the poorest in society or into a truly representative democracy where the voices of all are listened to, and truly heard. Mark is alluding to nothing less than the highest structures of power in history coming to their knees. Expectations for Christmas stockings have just risen into the full burlesque. From [insert random easily forgotten present] to a complete transformation of everything. The dominant order of the day falls but the words of Jesus do not pass away! And we begin to ask a more urgent question like: How can I live? How can I live in this new world where everything I have known is now different, difficult or subject to regulation. How can I live? Is the right question for Advent, because there is on offer a bigger vision in the words of the bible the Kingdom of God, in the words of the liberation movements, true justice. In musical terms it’s the Cantus Firmus, the song of the earth, the fixed melody which undergirds all that lives and loves and breathes. We can choose to sing in harmony, or not. The Cantus Firmus was used by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a metaphor of the love of God, that which gives the underlying rhythm to the very stuff of life and out of which a child is born, a son is given and he will be called wonderful, Emanuel God is with us and the government will be upon his shoulders et cetera. As we begin our adaptation, reconcilliation in the birth pains of all creation this Advent, the call is to sing the new song, to dream the new dream and to celebrate the gifts and promises for all in the light that is to come, the Christ Child, in the crafting of new beginnings.

talented shareholder

I walked the middle way from Capel Curig to Dolwyddelan for no particular reason except to be out for the count. (of the US Election!)  Paths cross and collide on that pathway a journey through a bland landscape not empty but bleak where the division between land and sky is the most prominent feature.  The occasional fence or ancient dividing wall of the enclosures almost becomes an event.  But my eyes are cast down not up, focusing on the pathway that is not altogether obvious as it meanders through.  I’m standing drinking coffee at a marker post deciding which way to go. If you choose to go one way you choose not to go the other the other way – obvious, but often not so in life. No path we choose is wrong, just different, perhaps more difficult. We must choose the path we walk.

Standing apart whilst divisions grow and choices are made. What will we support? Is there a right way and a wrong way, a just way and an unjust way; a more caring loving accepting way of being? We leave marker posts for each other to follow in life, but interpretation is key to following the way. So I turn to a traditional interpretation of a bible reading which leaves me stuck in the midst of the mud.  It sees God as master and a faithful disciple as one who obtains a good return on the master’s money, the ‘talents’. Or perhaps, God gives us abilities or skills and its up to us to repay that gift. The word Talent comes from the ancient greek meaning an amount of Gold, a sum of money. Perhaps we were unwilling to critique the unjust financial systems, or perhaps we were just lazy, talent was a useful dual meaning and the awkwardness of the parable drifts away as does the original meaning of the word. The unfaithful one, the one who washes his hands of his masters unjust dealings and buried his masters money in the ground. We are told that this master is one who is involved in aggressive and unjust business dealings and praises those who double the investment.

The parable offers us no easy ethic or simple path to tread. It is a source of agitation, a struggle. Can there be any other explanation? Perhaps there is another way. Jesus could be offering a critique. The master is not God, the master is one of the unjust elite who is looking for a return on the investment at all costs. Call the master Blackrock, or Goldman Sachs, or Royal Dutch Shell or HSBC, or perhaps even their shareholders.  How close to home does it have to be before it becomes another painful truth. Those who take the money and return it with 100% interest are the slaves to the
system which says profit is king.

The one who buries the talent is the one who stands up to the unjust master, who critiques the system. This is Jesus, the talented shareholder, he has cast himself as the one who is condemned by the world for standing up to it and refusing to be complicit in the master’s exploitation of the other slaves. He even takes the ‘talent’, to prove it’s uselessness and plants it in the ground, then when the master returns he takes it out of the ground. See – it bares no fruit, unlike the wealth of the natural creation which bears much fruit. This parable becomes a critique on an economy in which the poor get poorer while the rich get richer. And they say the bible is not relevant to modern life. The servant who critiques the master is cast into outer darkness – Just as Jesus is cast out, crucified. The abundance of creation, rather than figures on a page mark the wealth of a nation. This is not complete without what follows, where Jesus speaks of gifts offered to strangers, of hospitality, and care for the sick. This is the beggar in disguise, the least of these who turns out to be the one in whose footsteps we attempt to tread walking a narrow path and dare to suggest that it is the Christ we follow. The Middle Way