Sunday, 6 December 2015

Advent Sunday 2 (Year C) -- 6 December 2015

Readings: Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6

The public history of the world helps us to pin down another history. The record of great events and important personalities has woven into it another history, the history of the Word of God and of the relationship between the world and God. So it was in the reign of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, Kings of Judah, that the Word of God came to the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz. In the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, King of Judah, the Word of God came to Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, and continued to come to him until the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah, King of Judah. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, the Word of God came to John the Baptist, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. It might seem that this history of salvation depends on the framework of 'secular' history within which it is found but the reality is the opposite: it is the history of salvation - creation, covenant, promise, redemption, expectation - that sustains the world's history. The events and personalities of the sacred history, even if they made little impact on public history, are the ones of greatest significance for the meaning of this world's history.

So how goes it now, this career of the Word of God in the world, this relationship between the world's people and God the Creator and Redeemer? In some places it will be going very well, in the lives of some individuals and communities who allow its power to touch and correct and transform their lives. For other individuals and communities it is in danger of being forgotten, or at least its power is doubted. The readings today talk about the importance of remembering. In the reading from Baruch, the sons of Israel, gathered to the east (the wilderness, where the Baptist was later to appear) were jubilant because God had remembered them. Of course this is the fundamental remembering on which our hope is established, not that we remember God but that God remembers us.

Paul tells the Philippians that he remembers them each day, their communion in the gospel, their shared life. And he is very tender and emotional in telling them how much he misses them and longs for them 'in the entrails of Jesus Christ' (sometimes translated 'in the bowels of Christ' - it is a reference to compassion, or to what we might call an experience 'in the guts').

And the Baptist preaches a baptism of repentance, a call to remember and to call to mind who you are, where you have come from, what it is you have received, what it is you are called to. How wonderful it is to be remembered, to be thought about, for someone to say 'I have missed you' - in other words you have been in my thoughts even while you have been absent. This is how Paul speaks to his community at Philippi, and this is how we are to understand God in relation to us: remembering us, keeping us in mind - dare we say it? - missing us. As Paul has been personally involved with the Philippians, God is personally involved with his people.

We are in it together with God, his fate in the world is ours and our fate in the world is his. His glory is our glory and our glory is his glory. This is what this communion means. We are tied together, in a communion of shared life, because the Word became flesh. Just as in the time of the prophets and in the time of the Baptist there were great public events and personalities, so in our own time there is the public history, the events and people who count, who make the news. But there is also, deeper down and for the most part hidden, the continuing history of the career of God's Word in the world, of God's presence with his people, of their continuing relationship.

How goes it then with our koinonia, our shared life, shared between us and with God? Advent is a time to think hard about this question.

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