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Bishop’s Advent Reflection 2021

“Be on your guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation
and drunkenness and worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly.”
(Luke 21:34)

The Season of Advent commences the new Liturgical Calendar for the orthodox Christian Church within the global community. The lectionary assigned for Advent Season 2021 is Year C of the 3 Year calendar cycle. Advent focuses on the discipline and practice associated with the spiritual theme of contrition, penance, love, mercy, second chance and forgiveness in anticipation of the coming of the Prince of Light, Jesus the Christ, the babe born in Bethlehem’s stable over 2000 years ago. This anticipated birth is the Son of God born to save the world from sin and perennial darkness. This holy light comes to dispel the gloom, uncertainty and hopelessness commonly associated with grief and depression. Lets’ face it , we are a grieving world, and I see this grief in the faces of our clergy and lay people.

Ours is a world turned upside down. Where we are called to relentlessly recreate, adapt and reinvent, to be vigilant, resolute and resilient, and we are ‘tired’ of living in fear. We are all hoping and praying for a permanent reprieve. Thanks to the seminal work of scientists and researchers in collaboration with the diligence and sacrificial work of the health care community there is some level of normalcy. However, with the emergence of variants, particularly Delta and Omicron, the global community is again cautioned to live under appropriate aspects of COVID-19 protocols. We as a community of faith and a global family remain in the throes of an invisible enemy, an enemy that can’t be taken for granted. We cannot afford to let our safety network down. The Director of the Center for Disease Control, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, reminded the nation, “we cannot predict the future, but we can certainly be prepared for it”.

In the Holy Season of Advent, ‘preparation’ is the overwhelming theme. For Christians it is translated into, ‘be on your guard, be vigilant, be prayerful, increase faith, trust and mercy, be each other’s neighbor, be contrite, seek the face of God and make every effort to fall in love with Jesus all over again. It’s worth the ‘price of admission.’

The 5th Century Christian Church Father and teacher of the faith St. Augustine of Hippo, North Africa, once said of Adam, “Adam had been made in the image of God; he wished to be God. He reached out for what he was not and lost what he had.” Ever since that faithful day, God has been working toward getting back to that place of oneness with us, the children. The coming of Jesus is the final effort in that pursuit to achieve that ultimate goal. Jesus has come to walk us back to his father and our father in heaven through the act of unconditional love. (John 3:16)

Yet despite Jesus’ best efforts the world continues to reject his promise and invitation. There is a notion that the Christian world must learn to ‘unfind God’ so as to go deeper in our quest for God. This Advent, the first of the two penitential seasons, I am challenging us to find the one the Christian world wishes to find. Let us do so by looking beyond the beauty and splendor that marvel and captivate our imagination; and let us look into the inner recess of our soul. It is what is referred to as ‘God stretching us’. This “stretch” motif challenges us to grow deeper in our curiosity for a lasting relationship with our God (See I Thessalonians 3).

Advent comes to help train our minds into this movement. Advent is a four-week spiritual discipline that helps us to see the coming of God in human form as a remarkable event of faith and of God’s love for us and hopefully, stimulates an inner awakening that gives that light of Christ to our souls.

As we reflect on what it means to be prepared, I propose we stretch our imagination to ponder on the following, “The Son of Man is coming at the time you least expect” (Matthew 24:44). Here are some frightening prospects…

What if Jesus comes …

  • When there are still nearly two and a half billion people living in countries where the annual per capita income is $400 or less?
  • When there are still approximately 40,000 people dying every day from hunger?
  • When a billion people, close to one fifth of the human race, still do not have decent housing?
  • When there are still 20 million Latin American children sleeping in the street?
  • When there are still hundreds of millions of people without basic medical care?
  • When one out of every four human beings still has no access to safe drinking water?
  • When we are still burning down rain forests, depleting the ozone layer that protects us from the sun, depositing black crude oil along the delicate shoreline of the world, sending noxious gasses into the atmosphere so they return to earth as acid rain and pollute lakes and streams. We are playing games with radioactive materials that will be around to torture us for centuries.

“It is now the hour for us to wake from sleep” (Rom 13:11). With the challenge to stop fighting and “beat our swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4). The Season of Advent is a time for us to wake ourselves up and begin to prepare better for the coming of Christ. It may be time to recast/reimagine/revise the priority of this parish to look further than its beautiful sanctuary steps. It is a period conditioned by the ‘birth pangs’, the pain and fear associated with the gift of a new world order.

Let us pray:
Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son, so we wait for his coming in glory; bring us through the birth pangs of this present age to see, with her, our great salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.
(From “Common Worship Services and Prayers for the Church of England”)

Together in Christ’s service,

XI Bishop of Easton