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Dark Advent Rising 



Advent suffers from too much light pollution and churches should try not to contribute to it, writes John Rackley 



Advent1

 

We are told by Isaiah that the people living in darkness will see a great light, and this hope for his own time has become part of the Christian season of Advent. A time of prayer and song that anticipates the birth of Christ.

But I lament that our preparation for the songs of Christmas has been become a sort of ‘baby-shower’ time. All excitement, present-wrapping, tinsel stringing and food (SO much food) and a surfeit of jolliness. Where is the darkness?

The poet Malcolm Guite writes in his compilation of poems and observations for Advent Waiting on the Word: We will not understand the light that shines at Christmas if we remove the dark backdrop.

A convincing Christmas gospel rises from a deep living in darkness. The darkness which will not overcome the light but will still remain even when the light shines:

 
  • It may be the darkness of personal loss or regret.

  • It may be the darkness encountered when we dust off last year’s Bethlehem Carol sheets and finding charity Embrace is still calling us to reach out to the neglected refugee child of Gaza.

  • It may be the darkness of a church gifted with many blessings but haunted by unresolved arguments and the people who have walked away.

  • It may be a gradual slipping into the shadows and withdrawing from the space where politicians debase language and lead by scare-mongering and leaving their victims to struggle on.

  • It may be the darkness of self-absorbed love and a gospel of convenience.



Advent requires we do more than live in the darkness of a world which for 2000 years has disregarded the angels’ song. The season calls us to feel the darkness, sense our own murkiness and live the shadow life of faith. For being a person or people of faith is to be acquainted with grief and in our anguish see the light.

I know I am pushing against an open door. The school nativities are full of stars and songs of light. The groups in church are having their Christmas dinners and carols services. Ministers are working out when to have their church carol service. This year Christmas Day comes close after the fourth Sunday of Advent and ‘there will be a lot of people away’ so perhaps this headline event should be moved back a week.

So the time for Advent prayer is eroded and disappears in the false dawn of a Christmas detached from the back-drop.

What I ask for is some sort of prayerful awareness that darkness, even the grim darkness of a world not reconciled to her Maker, is the makings of a future of hope. Seed must fall and die in the darkness of soil for new life to come; for this is not just a text for considering the death of Jesus. Darkness, when accepted thwarted and used differently, can nurture.

Immanuel emerged from the darkness of Mary’s womb. Jesus would rise from the darkness of the grave built by suspicion, defiance and false news.

For this Advent is not just an excuse to have an early Christmas and get to the jollies quick. It asks what shall we do with the darkness of the New Year after the carols are silenced and the crib put away before the new term starts?

What sort of church must dwell in the continuing darkness of humanity’s lack of love of justice, mercy-loving and humble faith-walking, as Micah proclaimed? Is it not a church that remembers the songs of Advent throughout the year rather than as a cosy overture to Christmas dance songs?

For those hymns and songs are not cosy. The most Bible-centred constantly raise a cry for righteousness and justice. The songs of Zechariah and Mary in Luke and the mission statement of Matthew (4:12-17) constantly cry for a Messiah who has the desire for righteousness and justice at the heart of his calling.

How quickly that cry seems to be down-played when we overlook the justice and peace forum of the Sermon on the Mount and the all-culture challenge of the Beatitudes. How easy it seems to forget the Advent cry for darkness to be taken seriously when we do not understand what it meant when Jesus accepted the touch of a sex slave.

How readily we limit the kingdom of God’s righteousness when we reduce the Lord’s Prayer to an occasional walk-on role in an act of worship.
Advent has a long reach. It is not a four week wonder. The time of Advent lament is not a warm-up act for Christmas anymore than were the prophets of Israel. It is the soil into which faith can plant deep roots.

For Advent is an experience of having faith amidst the darkness of life. It is more than calendar event. It is a way of life; a spirituality of truth seeking justice. It is to be lived daily awaiting the arrival of God’s dawn. 


 

Image | Unsplash



John Rackley is a retired Baptist minister

 



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Baptist Times, 22/11/2018
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