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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 07.12.2023

Video for December 7th, 2023

In Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, Middle Earth is divided into the safety of the Shire (or New Zealand as we now know it) and the rest in which adventure and danger is found.  The Shire is a metaphor for the parochial and isolated. Everything is peaceful and agrarian.  The nasty world outside is shut out. The heroic Hobbits, Sam and Frodo embark on an adventure that places them at the centre of world- shattering events.  However, returning from the battles they discover the wicked wizard Saruman, driven from his own land, has taken up residence in the safety of their home and they need to battle all over again.  They lived in an inter-connected world as do we.  In the 1970s academics coined the word permacrisis to describe it. One war leads to another.  Food insecurity leads to famine. Political systems are undermined, causing an upsurge in ISIS in sub-Saharan Africa.  The waves of refugees wash up on our shores.  Over all and behind an increasing amount of it lies the environmental crisis. We’d like to be like the Shire and close it all out, but reality keeps crashing in.

The temptation to retreat to the Shire is a strong one. You could get overwhelmed with it all. But not in this season. We are in Advent, the start of a season where we celebrate the gift of hope.  I’m here at the Guard’s Chapel in London for our annual cathedral trip to replay the glorious Advent Carol service that started our diocesan Advent last Sunday. Advent is primarily an anticipation of Jesus’ second coming.  It is a world view that sees history as bounded rather than endlessly cyclical. This is promised throughout the New Testament.  Jesus himself told multiple stories and parables to encourage people to prepare for it. Two themes emerge from his teaching.  One is the reality of human accountability.  Paul encourages the Roman Christians not to be tempted into revenge against their persecutors because he is convinced none shall escape judgement in the end.  There is no such thing as the perfect crime. The Gospel is in part described as good news because it delivers us from a true accountability for what we have done.  If the standard is perfection, then all fall short. The gospel speaks of forgiveness and of our sins not being called to account. This is what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection achieves for those who place their trust in it. We have received such forgiveness and we pray that others would receive it too, even those who persecute us. Painfully, it was the suffering of the first Christians and their response to it that opened many hearts in the Roman world to receive the Gospel.  Think Saul and Stephen for example. 

But the second is more problematic. A dramatic return in glory presupposes a control over the unfolding of history that is difficult to square with the ‘permacrisis’ of the moment. Although in his self-chosen human limitations he could not say when it would happen, nonetheless, he was in no doubt that God the Father would bring it about in his own time. The barbarism and cruelty of Hamas terrorists, indiscriminate revenge by Israel and the daily, cynical bombing of civilians in Ukraine seem to happen with impunity.  The promise that one day they’ll get their comeuppance doesn’t feel like much of a comfort or justification in the moment. I’ve never been in such a time of suffering that enabled me to road test confidence in Gods definitive love shown in Jesus for myself. I’ve somewhat frivolously prayed the early Christian prayer, “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus,” or, “now would be a really good time to come back.” But that’s largely been before difficult conversations or interviews, not because my life was in danger!

Practically, we enter into the mystery of all this through prayer. When we do that, not only do we receive comfort in the face of mystery but are privileged to witness the intervention of God. Berlin Walls can fall starting with prayer meetings in Leipzig.  Peaceful transitions of power happening South Africa against all expectation. Advent is about such hope: a hope that all of this will not go on forever, but also that the Lord will providentially intervene, but in ways that do not interfere with genuine freedom of choice.

The Advent mystery of hope will merge into the other great mystery of the incarnation. The discipline of waiting in such hope is a good one year by year.

+ Richard

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