'A Reflection' 



From the service on 29 November - Advent Sunday



A Reflection from Richard Newton



Today is Advent Sunday.  The purple altar frontal is on the altar, even though we can’t go into church to see it!  We’ve lit our first Advent Candle.  We’ve been singing Advent hymns.  Our Advent journey has begun.


Our Advent journey leads us to the one-time-only birth of our Saviour, and yet it’s a journey we live again every year.  It focuses on the birth of Jesus at one particular moment in time, and yet it also evokes his presence at the very end of time.  Advent is about “now”, and yet it’s also about “not yet”.  Over these four weeks we hold these and all sorts of other things in tension.


There’s a definite feeling of tension in the words of the prophet Isaiah, set for today.  God’s people are returning home after a long time in exile, and they find their promised land in ruins.  Isaiah pleads with God to rip open the heavens and come down and help them.  But what sort of God do we imagine is going to come down?  Because of all they’ve done wrong, Isaiah thinks God will be angry.  He appears to have been silent for a long time and to have abandoned them.  If God does come, what will he do?


The Church Times has a new columnist reviewing the Sunday readings as from this week – Cally Hammond.  She writes this in her first piece:


“No one wants a God who is just the biggest bully in the celestial playground.  Isaiah’s ‘longing’ for God’s coming makes no sense without a belief in God’s mercy.”


What’s more, they and we are able to call on the name of our God because God has chosen to trust them and us with it.


I chose to read R S Thomas’ poem “The Coming” not only because I love it, and it’s poignant to Advent, but because it turns everything upside-down.  It looks at the coming of Jesus not from our point of view, but from God’s point of view. 


The Father invites the son to look at a globe and at a desperate ‘scorched land’, with ‘crusted buildings’ and ‘slime’.  In one sense this is the Holy Land – but in another sense it could be any land ravaged by loss, pain and disaster.  It’s a land with the potential for creativity and healing, but which is actually blighted by destruction and harm.


The son sees the desperate need of the people holding out their ‘thin arms’ and yearning for new life.  “Let me go there”, says the son in the poem.  In coming to us he is to pour himself out for our sakes.  Our needs are met by the unimaginable compassion of God, who draws near to us in Jesus. 


In today’s Gospel, Jesus turns to the symbol of the fig tree.  He talks about the possibility of it putting out shoots that would signal the end of winter and the coming of summer.  Like all signs, it’s something that gives us hope, that enables us to hold on, even when things are really difficult.  None of us can ever know God’s plans or timetable.  All we can do is to get on with living faithfully – with being people of love, grace and openness.


At the beginning of Advent, we stand with our ‘thin arms’ held out, yearning for new life.  We stand, like Isaiah, pleading inside for God to rip open the heavens and come to us.  What are our deepest needs and hopes on this Advent Sunday?  What are the yearnings and the fears that cause us to implore the love of God to come afresh into our lives, at the beginning of this season?  What is it we wish to lay before the coming Christ as we look forward to celebrating the incarnation once again?


   “. . . The son watched .  . . Let me go there, he said”


Come, Lord Jesus.