By Bishop Terry Dance
Well, unbelievable, as it seems, in just a few weeks we will be entering the season of Advent.
This year, as we journey in our hearts and minds to Bethlehem, in anticipation of the birth of the one who would be called the Prince of Peace, our sensibilities are being assaulted by images of violence, bloodshed and death in Israel, in the West Bank, where Bethlehem struggles for existence behind separation walls and checkpoints, and even worse in the Gaza Strip. The irony is inescapable.
I cannot help but think of the poetry of the prophet Micah who had a vision of swords being turned into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. Micah envisioned a time when people from the four corners of the earth would come to the holy mountain, each with their own God and find a way to live in peace and harmony.
Isaiah had a vision for the same mountain, in which all people would be invited to a banquet of fine food and wine, and it would be a time, and a place when the shroud of death, the shroud of shame and oppression, would be removed from humanity, and every tear would be wiped away.
Today this holy mountain is at the centre of a struggle for land, identity, and power… a struggle which no one can win. And so today we find ourselves asking, “How long O Lord, how long?“ When will our proclivity to hate, to judge, to oppress and to kill, no longer define us as human beings. When will humankind get it right?
Maybe, just maybe, Advent is coming at just the right time this year. This sacred season is after all, an invitation to look back and to hear again the strident words of the prophets, challenging, begging the people to pursue distributive justice and peace for all.
Advent encourages us to look around and see what is broken and who is hurting and to respond with loving care. Ultimately, Advent challenges us, no begs us, to look ahead with hope to a time when God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom of justice and peace for all people will be a reality, not simply wishful thinking, but by committing ourselves to doing our part right here and right now.
Advent is not simply an invitation to proclaim the Kingdom of God, but to live into it.
While there will be no shortage of programs offered around the diocese, let me be bold enough to offer you one more. The diocese will be posting links to a study I have videoed which is designed to help you look back, look around and look ahead. My hope is that at this time in our history, when warfare, violence, hatred, bigotry and religious intolerance mar the beauty of God’s creation, we might find hope and confidence by engaging with God’s word and with one another.
The Holy Child of Bethlehem, was to be called Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’ Throughout our sacred writings, to say that God is with us is to say that the way things are is not what has to be. God has an alternative future for a bruised and broken world. It is up to us to claim it, proclaim it and live into it.
+ Terry Dance