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Ordinary Time 2017

28 November 2016
Advent - fear and judgement

One word keeps cropping up: fear.

This is an anxious time. It has been this way for a while, and it's not getting any better.

To hear the Rev. Fleming Rutledge tell it, "We are all battling fear in a way that has not been true in America since World War II, and perhaps not even then, since that war was fought far away."

Advent speaks to this fear. The Rev. Canon Scott Gunn puts it this way:

Jesus told his disciples to “be not afraid” about as much as he said anything to them. To be seduced by fear is not new to our time, though perhaps our culture is uniquely equipped to create a deafening cacophony of fear-inducing noise. Might this “armor of light” help us to reject captivity to fear, which is surely one of the great works of darkness? I think so.

"Cast away the works of darkness". Seven Whole Days 13 December 2014.

"Do not be afraid" is one of the great refrains of scripture. And it is the first thing the Angel Gabriel says to Mary.

Almost a year ago the Rev. Fleming Rutledge offered a two-part rumination on Advent (one that mentioned Donald Trump, of all people).

From "What is happening to Advent?" Part 1:

"We will be saved through judgment; but we will not be saved without judgment."

Those two great Anglican poets of the 20th century, T. S. Eliot (in Murder in the Cathedral) and W. H. Auden (in For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio) evoked a sense of Advent as a time of foreboding. The ultimate hope-beyond-hope is always there, beyond and through the foreboding, but when the essence of the season is diluted by cheery, upbeat, inferior forms of hope, the Advent power of the ultimate promise of God scarcely registers.

From "What is happening to Advent?" Part 2:

Advent is meant to be portentous, which is a very different thing from our standard assumptions that everything is going to work out for the best. Who can believe that any more, anyway? In this season of the year 2015, a front-page feature article in the New York Times 12/4/15 tells us of our fears, fears that we never expected to have. (The article is by N. R. Kleinfeld, who wrote the chief feature article for September 12, 2001--first sentence: "It kept getting worse." First sentences in the recent article: "The killings are happening too often. Bunched too close together. At places you would never imagine.") There is a profound theological message here. Advent is the very opposite of the "countdown to Christmas," because it tells us of our status in the world as it is. When Jesus spoke of "the ruler of this world" he meant Sin and Death, also called Satan. We have no right to expect anything from God. Advent requires of us an unblinking assessment of the real situation we find ourselves in.

And later on she writes: "We will be saved through judgment; but we will not be saved without judgment."

To that I would only add two stanzas of this great Advent hymn.

Lo! the Lamb, so long expected,
comes with pardon down from heaven;
let us all, with tears of sorrow,
pray that we may be forgiven;

that when next he comes with glory,
and the world is wrapped in fear,
with his mercy he may shield us,
and with words of love draw near.

Hymn 59. "Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding." st. 3, 4.

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