addEventListener("load", function() { setTimeout(hideURLbar, 0); }, false); function hideURLbar(){ window.scrollTo(0,1); }

For we wait for a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13)

In a cluttered world which almost intelligently deprives us of space, Advent poses the one question we must stop to answer

The season of Advent has been ruthlessly flattened by the steamroller of commercialisation. Thanks to the calendars you can buy, Advent is little more than a numerical countdown to Christmas Day (and you can take your pick of calendars from High School Musical to the World Wrestling Federation today). Advent has become a ruthless clock which counts down to Christmas Eve, mocking our desperate efforts to stay on top of the season’s agenda. There are presents to buy and wrap, cards to write, trees to buy, decorations to put up and food and drink to stockpile for the apocalyptic visit of the in-laws. Welcome to the season of stress and joyless celebration as we practice it today.


It was never meant to be like this. Advent is not a merciless countdown to Christmas; it has its own intrinsic merit. In a cluttered world which almost intelligently deprives us of space, Advent stands for something different. It asks us the question: are we ready for Christ’s coming? And by this it doesn’t mean his first coming as a baby but his second coming as a king. Advent is an exploration of what it means to live between two points: the first and second coming of Christ. The incarnation of God as a child was not an end in itself but one point in a continuous story which ends with a second coming.


This idea is poorly understood today. We are heavily influenced in our thinking by the enlightenment philosophical tradition and the unassailable rule of science which deny the possibility of divine intervention in this world. As a result, even if people believe that God created the world, many think he plays no role in modern history. For them, God is rather like a property developer who loses interest in a place once value has been added and the Book of Genesis would be more accurate if it said: ‘God saw that everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good….so good that he couldn’t resist making a fast profit while the market was buoyant and moving on to renovate another coming corner of the universe’.


This has enabled Christians to join in the popular perception that the world will endure for ever and that talk of the second coming of Christ is as likely as Elvis performing a concert on the moon. It has allowed us to develop an unbiblical view of life after death where heaven and earth continue for ever in different spheres which never merge, the only cross-over being when a person dies and is transferred to a better place where they wait patiently to be joined by others, one by one as they die. This is reflected in too many of our hymns, which people tend to remember better than their Bibles.


This distorted view of heaven is easily ridiculed, with angels strumming harps on white fluffy clouds being the most persistent vision. It is also insidious, because it suggests that the purpose of faith is not to transform this world in preparation for the day of resurrection when God shall re-create it and us with it, but to prepare people in a minimalist way for life after death in a ghostly place without substance. What we do with this world and how we live in it then become less important than getting people individually ready for their transfer to heaven. In this way religion is reduced to little more than glue or something that fills the gaps in our lives rather than a genuinely transformational way of looking at the world.


It is hard to overstate how untrue this is of the biblical picture of the future.

In Romans 8, St. Paul says ‘for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God….the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God’. Just as God once made this world and our sin fractured it, the resurrection of Jesus promises that this world shall be powerfully re-created. When do not know when and we do not know how, but for now we believe the faithful dead shall rest in peace until they rise in glory on that day of resurrection.


Advent is a season where we remind ourselves of this future hope. This is essential because the second coming is the elephant in the living room of the Church. Our liturgy is littered references to it. The Prayer which Jesus taught says:’ your kingdom come on earth’ and the whole of the last book of the Bible - Revelation – is devoted to it. And yet we live in denial of it. It is not surprising that our society has submitted to the commercialisation of Advent. It presents a cosy picture of the here and now which is much easier on the mind than the idea that the whole of creation that we lovingly cling to will be shaken like the pieces in a kaleidoscope until they reform in the new image God shall give them.


Jesus was aware of the difficulty people would have in getting a handle on this. He commanded his followers: ‘keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come’ (Mark 13:33). There is something in the human make-up which tempts us to be wilfully unprepared in life. As long as we can postpone a day of reckoning, we do so. The global financial crisis is a good example of this. There are a host of ways in life in which we know we need to make changes but put them off until it is too late. I am terrible at backing up on my computer. I am always being told I must do it in case I lose all the memory I have. I know I need to do it, but do I get round to it? No. Will I get caught out by it? Probably, one day. But as long as it’s one day and not this day, I can live with it. I realise that what I have just written makes me look really stupid, but I write it in the hope that we can all grasp something much bigger. We kind of knew there would be a day of reckoning for our financial overreach, even if we didn’t know what it would look like until it arrived. There is also a day of reckoning with God. We delude ourselves if we think we can postpone it, because we are no more in charge of that day than we are of when the sun chooses to rise in the morning.


Speaking of his second coming, Jesus specifically called on people to be prepared for it ‘so that your hearts are not weighed down with…the worries of this world and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap’. He calls us to travel lightly through this world, when in reality we walk down the path of life with our worries burdening us like an excess of overfull plastic supermarket bags cutting into our fingers.


There’s not a lot we can do to change today’s culture of Advent, where people race around frantically like a football team trying to score a goal in the fourth minute of injury time. But we can do something to change the way we approach this season. The writer C.S. Lewis said that wisdom was being able to distinguish the trivial from the important. May God give us wisdom in Advent.



Why Violence Is Declining In The West But There Is No Guarantee It Will ContinueTo
Why Violence Is Declining In The West But There Is No Guarantee It Will ContinueTo
Obama's Covert Wars
Obama's Covert Wars

The use of drones is going to change warfare out of all recognition in the next decades.

Through A Glass Starkly
Through A Glass Starkly

Images of traumatic incidents caught on mobile phone can be put to remarkable effect.

What Are British Values?
What Are British Values?

Is there a British identity and if so, what has shaped the values and institutions that form it?

© 2017 Simon Burton-Jones All Rights Reserved