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First Sunday in Advent (Year A, 28 November 2010)

Hope in all things

Isaiah 2.1-5
Matthew 24.36-44

It’s Advent. I’ve already heard Christmas carols while shopping—just next door in Coles, of all places.

‘Advent’ simply means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. The Season of Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation for the ‘arrival’ of Jesus. But it’s not just preparation and anticipation for celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day.

We are also directed by the Lectionary readings to prepare for and anticipate what the arrival of Jesus meant—that is, the coming of a King who would bring God’s justice and peace to the people.

So we’re also being reminded to get ready for the arrival of Jesus on that day when the prayer of Jesus (and our prayer) is finally realised—‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’. We are reminded today to hope for a day when the future that God dreams of, the future of God’s shalom, of peace and wellbeing for all people, when that future is finally here. Do you, do I, trust that it will come?

The music we heard before the service is called Spem in Alium, which is Latin for Hope in all Things. It was written by Thomas Tallis around 1570 for Elizabeth I. I love it—I want it at my funeral. But do I still hope now, wile I’m still drawing breath, for that day when God’s justice will come?

What are you hoping for? It seems to me that we often limit ourselves to small hopes. Little, safe hopes that won’t rock our world too much if they come true, and won’t change our world that much if they don’t. As Christmas nears, we might hope for an iPad, a special DVD, or someone else to cook the turkey this time. We might hope for Uncle Joe not to snore all Christmas afternoon like he did last year.

These are manageable hopes, reasonable hopes, safe hopes. These are hopes that delight us if they happen, but if they don’t we’ll cope.

Christian hope is of a very different order. It is a big hope. It’s even bigger than the Barmy Army’s hope that England might retain the Ashes. Christian hope is our hope that God is good, that God comes good on his promises. It’s hope that the world isn’t here for no purpose, it’s hope that our lives have a purpose. And it’s hope that God will finally reveal that purpose, that the kingdom of God will be fully here. It’s already here—we catch glimpses of it when people are fed, clothed, or set free. Can we hope seriously ‘big’—can we hope that God’s kingdom will be fully here one day?

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A Babel of Cricketers

Like many Aussies, I’ve been watching the fracas between the Australian and Indian teams with horrified interest. Harbhajan Singh was accused and found guilty of racial vilification against Andrew Symonds. On appeal, that charge was dropped in favour of a charge of non-racial verbal abuse. This resulted in a three-match ban being lifted, and Harbhajan forced to hand over half his match takings of $3 000, a much lesser penalty.

As usual, Eureka St magazine has provided us with some great reflections, in an article by Andrew Hamilton. (You could do worse than bookmarking Eureka St.) Here is some of it; click here for the rest:

If you want to reflect on the conflict between the Indian and Australian teams, for example, you could do worse than detour past the Tower of Babel. It is one of a cycle of stories that tell how God’s love always intervenes to rescue humanity from the destructive consequences of its bloody-mindedness.

The Tower of Babel is an image of the capacity of technology to disturb deep human values. In the story the discovery of bricks and mortar has made possible the construction of towers and the shaping of cities. New technology and a shared language inspire a concerted effort to build a tower that will reach to heaven—God’s world. God responds to this vaulting ambition by confusing the people’s languages.

At first sight, this story seems to say that a controlling God punishes human beings for their cheeky pride in technology and human progress. But in context it is more subtle. Although these early stories in the Book of Genesis represent God as intervening from outside, their deeper concern is to show the inner dynamics of human action. God is about relationships, and the stories return human beings to relationships.

The point of this story is that new technology focuses human beings narrowly on domination and on power. They see human fulfilment in these terms. The new technologies and the consequent change in economic relationships inspire great concerted projects. But the narrow focus on domination and technical expertise destroys the conditions that allow people to cooperate. They need to rediscover the priority of relationships, and particularly the relationship with God that relativises instrumental goals…

On the bright side, this has given us a new collective noun for cricket players: a babel of cricketers!

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