Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s video. There’s a Christmas tree behind me as I’ve recently filmed some segments for a video advent calendar that will start this weekend. We don’t normally put Christmas trees up in the house until about the middle of December. The Christmas adverts on TV are now well underway, having started back in September, and while I’m not the sort of curmudgeon that says you can’t sing Christmas carols until Christmas Eve, none the less, there is nothing wrong with a bit of anticipation and waiting. The capacity for delayed gratification is one of the best predictors of children’s success in later life.
This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent. Primarily it’s a season that helps us to prepare, not for Jesus first coming but his second. It’s a time of waiting and reflection; a time when we focus on hope. The promise of Christ’s coming again is a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. The picture we’re given in Revelation is not of escapism to a better world but of the eventual coming together of the fully realised Kingdom of God: heaven and earth coming together. The image of an eternal tedium sitting on clouds playing harps, beloved of Philadelphia cheese commercials is a gross misrepresentation of biblical symbolism. Crowns are symbols of being united with God in his indescribable splendour. Gold speaks of eternal timelessness and incorruptibility. Music – not on harps – for many strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. The sublime sound of our cathedral choir at evensong points well beyond itself to the source of such beauty.
Christians have been accused of being so heavenly minded, that they’re no earthly good. But paradoxically, its those Christians who have been so convinced of eternal life that have made the most difference in this one. The Apostles, convinced of the reality of heaven that had broken in to this world in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, lit a fire that consumed an empire. People like Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King had a dream of a better world here, rooted not in the past but in a promised future. And Jesus, for the hope set before him, endured the cross.
Scratch beneath the surface of most peoples’ lives, beneath the endless distraction our culture affords, you will find a quiet yearning for something more. Bernard Levin the former Times columnist, not a Christian said,
“countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet and at times noisy desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them and however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and TV sets they stuff it with, however many balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it… it aches.”
C. S. Lewis in his great book Mere Christianity, describes two paths that are often taken to deal with this ache. One, which we might describe as the addictive path sees, the problem as lying in the things themselves. Flitting from one purchase or experience or relationship to the next in the hope that the next thing might provide satisfaction that’s craved. We’ve probably had the experience ourselves of craving a particular item, acquiring it and finding it not quite the satisfaction we’d hoped.
The second approach, is that of the cynic. It’s a sensible approach if this world is all there is. Settle into not expecting too much of life, repress desire and just make the best of it. Its an approach tried by the writer of Ecclesiastes. He muses on all of the wonderful experiences of his life, pleasures, relationships and joys, and in the end concludes all is vanity. But his experience goes further than that. He illustrates the spiritual value of boredom! The things he describes don’t eventually satisfy
because they were never meant to. He eventually concludes that people are not born with desires unless a satisfaction for those desires actually exists. Babies feel hunger – there is food.
I’ll leave the last word to C.S. Lewis, who says,
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy, it doesn’t prove the universe is a fraud. It probably means these earthly pleasures were never meant to, but merely to arouse us to the real thing.”
May we all discover in the waiting this Advent a new hope and satisfaction, not in the pleasures of this world but to see in them signposts to a yet more glorious world to come.