Sermon for Advent 3
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear! Isaiah 35.3-4a
These words could have been written for John the Baptist. Last week, we saw him confronting the very powerful religious authorities of his time. We see him today after he was arrested and thrown in jail, despondent and doubting. Soon, he will lose his head through the machinations of a spiteful queen and the weakness of a vain and prideful king.
Strengthen the weak hands… John needed strength. Jesus wasn’t doing quite what John wanted, so he sent messengers to ask if they’d got it right—was Jesus really ‘the one’, the one who was to come and set things right? It didn’t look right to John.
Apology: My main problem is that I don’t have the background in philosophy to actually debate Philip Pullman, the atheist/agnostic/whatever author of His Dark Materials, a fantasy trilogy in the teenager’s section of your local bookshop. (The three books are Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the USA), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. The Golden Compass has been made into a film that starts on Boxing Day in Oz.)
The world created by PP is a series of universes, some similar to ours, others quite different. Here, ‘God’ is the first angel who came into being, who convinced all others that he had created them and that they owe him their worship. He is ‘The Authority’, but he is also ‘God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty’. This is certainly the God of the Bible (though not the Koran!—Allah is not mentioned. Is there a fear of a fatwah?).
There was a war in heaven, as in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, but the wrong side (i.e. God’s side!) won. The Authority now exercises supreme control, but there are those who are willing to rise against him. In the end, God dies, with ‘a sigh of the most profound and exhausted relief’. (Of course, this ‘God’ is actually not the living God. And if PP were killing him for the sake of God, he would be a prophet. But he isn’t killing an idol god for God’s sake.)
Please allow me to put my main problem—one of personal deficiency—aside, and mention some problems I do have with PP and his books.