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.