December 2nd 2018
One of the phrases we find Jesus repeating over and over again is that simple, 'Do not be afraid!' I can understand why he says it so often, given that fear seems to be one of the emotions that stalks each of us at some time in our life. I don't need to elaborate as you will easily recognize your own fear and what it consists of, but to be afraid isn't anything to be ashamed of; it's a natural instinct, part of the DNA of human experience warning us to be careful.
More important though is what it is we are afraid of and why? The Church hasn't always been a good steward of those calming words of Jesus, for too often in the name of religion, a good fear of God, a healthy and positive respect for the unknown Holy One (something almost akin to wonder) has been translated into a negative force, an unhealthy fear, destructive, and punishing! You don't need to look far for examples of this kind, we see them daily alas in blogs and twitter, on remarks in Facebook, where those who should know better, write of threats of hell, and an angry vengeful God! Yes, we see these things used often by good people to put others in their place. I remember a friend of mine frequently saying: 'God is not mocked'-the implication being that something punishing was about to take place, and yet nothing did happen. And so it is, for those who are angry and vengeful, their threats that day, that week had little effect, the annoying people just lived on!
So why am I writing about fear? Because of Advent, because of what it suggests to us, not in terms of countdown to Christmas, but in that dramatic other countdown to the day of the coming of the Lord! Our readings are full of the ominous warnings about its happening, it will come when least expected, it will come unrecognized, although those with insight will know the signs, moon and stars falling, raging seas covering the earth and so on, but above all it seems to come at a time when people are confused, distressed and very afraid!
And yet, and yet, we must not let this vision of cosmic drama and apocalyptic gloom defeat the heart of our faith in God. Jesus has come, salvation has been given us, death has been conquered, sin is forgiven, and redemption is ours! We need to become not a fearful people, but those who like Jesus stand out as the calm voices of love: we should shout Julian of Norwich's famous words loudly, 'All shall be well' and keep on shouting 'don't to be afraid". If we pause and look beyond the tension of our scriptural readings, what we find is the fulfilment, not the destruction, of God's love in Jesus, his coming to take us with him to that Kingdom of rest, peace and love. Advent is that signpost: high in the purple sky amongst the stars of winter there above all things, it points and says: "This Way Is Home"!
Stir up our hearts, O Lord,
to prepare the paths of your Only-begotten Son:
that we may worthily serve you
with hearts purified by His coming:
Who lives and reigns with God the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
ever one God, world without end. Amen.
David A Redding, from If I Could Pray Again (1965)
Adult Advent Announcement
Let Advent begin again
Not merely in commercials;
For that first Christmas was not
Simply for children,
But for theWise and the strong.
Crowded around that cradle,
With kings kneeling.
Speak to us
Who seek an adult seat this year.
Help us to realize,
As we fill stockings,
Christmas is mainly
For the old folks -Bent backs
And tired eyes
Need relief and light
A little more.
It was grown-ups
Who were the first
Such a star.
Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. See: www.indcatholicnews.com/news/35821
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