Advent: "A Change of Key"

The Reverend Margaret Legg

From the sunny uplands of Galilee to Jerusalem; from teaching and parables to the Apocalyptic language we have just heard, the long Sundays of Trinity are over, we’re looking towards Advent. Apocalypse, from the Greek word meaning revelation or disclosure, describes the wild and turbulent state that will presage the coming of God’s Messiah.

Jesus speaks words of impending doom, betrayal and hat. 8 centuries earlier, Micah, had foretold devastation and ruin, using the same tone. Their words ring true today.

What is going on in the Houses of Parliament: did a hand touch a knee some years ago; was an off-colour remark spoken; what’s behind the disclosures, what are the motives?  How do we know who/what to believe? Cartoon in yesterday’s paper, with a nod to Hallowe’en and Gunpowder Plot, showed a massive spider on top of the Houses of Parliament, crushing them, with little figures in suits jumping into the Thames and fleeing down Westminster Bridge: apocalyptic times!

Micah was right, the temple was destroyed. By the time Matthew’s gospel was written it had been destroyed again, this time by the Romans – levelled to the ground in 70 AD. Are the Houses of Parliament next?

How can we each prepare for the end, in the midst of apocalypse? How, as a friend put it recently, can I have a beautiful soul, Margaret, so that I am ready to meet God?

Sadly, it seems that we’re not suddenly going to wake up in the perfection of the Kingdom of God. The shocking terribleness of sin is all pervading and all consuming; it easily gets to us and will take us over if we give it an inch.

And sin’s not going to give up without a fight. Look at so-called Islamic State. What an apocalyptic time the last 6 years have been in that region. The irony is that IS fighters believe that it is through war, terror and violence that they make their souls beautiful and are assured of a place in paradise.

Christians hold the opposite view.

We are to prepare by living honestly, peacefully ‘pure, upright and blameless’ as Paul puts it.

How to go about it?

First    ‘do not be led astray’

Micah and Jesus both rail against the false prophets of their time, who just pipe the tune of their paymasters. They look and sound genuine but it’s all a sham. And there is no shortage of false prophets these days.

Eg fake news.

Look at Catalonia. Spain was initially portrayed as the bad guy: an illegal, ill-supervised, low poll referendum conducted in defiance of the Spanish constitution was presented in many sections of the media as an appalling tale of police brutality against a people yearning to be free. I mentioned this to Antonio, who being Spanish has a clearer picture and he did not mince words: ’Margaret, this is a coup d’etat that the majority of people in Spain just do not want. Don’t believe everything (or was it anything?!) the papers and TV say’. And so it has turned out to be.

 Eg instant denunciation.

We see it today in cases of sexual harassment and abuse. It’s good that such activity is coming into the open, but not so good is the speed with which the accused are condemned.  Just a whiff of suspicion is enough to launch a tsunami of tweets and the alleged perpetrator is found guilty. Many really are guilty, but many are not. Field Marshall Lord Bramall, Edward Heath, Cliff Richard and probably many more: instantly condemned, only later for all charges to be withdrawn. Public rage quickly refocuses on something else but the wreckage for the individual and their families remains.

Do not be led astray; hold your fire, be slow to blame, discover the truth.

 Second                       ‘endure to the end’

Even in the midst of apocalyptic events.

Remember Remember the 5th of November: gunpowder, treason and plot! Fawkes and his confederates were led astray: violence and murder do not shape a beautiful soul.

When we enjoy the fireworks and the beauty of the Katherine Wheel, spare a thought for St Catherine. In the 4th century she refused to marry the emperor because she was a ‘bride of Christ’ and her tortures included being tied to a rotating wheel. She endured to the end.

Martin Luther

So did another Christian whose anniversary was celebrated earlier this week – Martin Luther.

He has been described as a jihadist, but actually he had no intention of making his points through violence. He was an academic, he had wrestled with scripture, going back to the early Greek texts, and was desperate to debate his findings. 500 years ago last Tuesday he posted 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg. The stakes were high: eternal life. He needed to know the right way to shape his soul for the end times.

Instead of debate, he was excommunicated. So anyone who killed him was automatically immune from arrest for murder and safe from condemnation by the church. Luther was in great danger, but endured to the end, saying famously: ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’.

Church and state are not all of a piece these days, but our faith continues to impel us to stand up against injustice, corruption and violence.

Apocalypse    Will it happen?

Yes, it’s happening now and will continue until the end.

Globally: in nature, for whatever reason, there are signs of melt down. Walruses in the Arctic fight for space on fewer and fewer icebergs so their calves can rest

Internationally: in South Sudan where more than a million refugees in have fled to Uganda 

In communities: Grenfell Tower; Manchester, New York, where terrorists have struck

Individually: we have accidents, our identities are stolen, a gang snatches our mobile, and our lives are turned topsy turvy.

Through all this we are called to live lovingly, honestly, truthfully, peacefully. Even when the going is tough. When we are not led astray, when we endure to the end, when we hold on to what is good, then we are preparing our souls so that they are beautiful for the end that will come.