We do not give up

Second Sunday of Advent (A)

In the second reading today St Paul offers us a useful observation. He says that people who did not give up were helped by God. This observation can be linked to this season of Advent.

The Advent season has its own particular character. It is about waiting. We naturally think about our waiting for the celebration of Christmas. During Advent we all begin our preparations, both religious and secular, for Christmas. Young children are very aware of the coming celebration of Christmas. Their focus is on receiving their Christmas presents. Their excitement is fuelled the spirit of this time – the lights, the decorations, the music, the events. They begin to ask their parents, “How many more sleeps?”.

Our Christian waiting for Christmas mirrors in a very brief and simple way the waiting of the Jewish people for the coming the Messiah. For centuries the prophets had spoken of God intending to send a Messiah, a Saviour. There were descriptions of the wonderful blessings that would take place with his coming.

Thus, for example, the first reading today spoke of the qualities of character that the Messiah would possess. It spoke of spirit of the Lord resting upon him and this spirit would result in him acting with wisdom and insight. It spoke of the Messiah having qualities of integrity and faithfulness.

This would result in an idyllic situation where wolf would lie down with lamb, lion would eat straw. While such a description of the new state of the world is poetic and idealised, it expresses the hope for a far better future.

Waiting is about not just the passing of time, and less about a sense of a waste of time. It speaks rather about a sense of expectation. As the wait lengthens the more we find ourselves growing in anticipation. This must have been the experience of the Jewish people as their wait extended over centuries.

Of course, we Christians are also in a state of waiting. We await the final coming of the Lord at the end of time. The early Christians sensed that it was imminent. As time went on they came to understand that for the Lord a thousand years are like a day (2 Pet 3:8). They realised that there may be some time yet before the Lord returns. However, there will come a moment when time will have run its course and the Lord will come again in glory and majesty.

The expectation and desire of the early Christians is captured in final words of the Sacred Scripture: “Amen, come Lord Jesus”.  This continues to be the cry of the Church. We look forward to the coming of the Lord in glory at the end of time.

Our belief in the final consummation of all things allows the Christian to interpret the unfolding of human history. History is not just the outworking of blind forces. It is not, in the end, subject only to human influence. We Christians do not believe in fate as did the ancient cultures who did not know God.

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the gods and goddesses determined individual human destinies, allotting misery and suffering in a capricious manner. People felt that their destinies were outside their control.

Today’s generation believes the opposite, a secular person driven by a scientific mindset and an exalted sense of their own capacity believe that they can shape and determine their future. And they believe that they can do it by themselves and according to their own perception of reality.

The Christian holds a different position. We understand that we have been given the gift of free will and make decisions affecting the direction of our life, but we are guided by God’s commandments. We believe that there is a natural law governing human existence and we seek to live within God’s good plan for human life. At the same time, we believe that God, who is a God of love and mercy, comes to our aid in times of weakness or need. We don’t struggle alone, we know that God is with us.

The great declaration of the Church at Christmas is that God, in the sending of his Son, has come to save humanity. Thus, we, as believers,  place our lives under the saving action of God in Christ.

This provides the foundation for what St Paul said: God will help those who do not give up. For the Christian, times of darkness do not become times of despair. For the Christian times of failure do not become times of surrender.

We believe God will help us, especially when we do not give up; when our first intention is to remain faithful; when we are prepared to wait upon God; when we trust despite outward signs to the contrary.

In our struggles either within our own life or in the wider society we rely upon God. We trust in God. This trust in God allows God to move in our lives in his own good time and according to his own kind purposes.

Thus, we remain faithful. We are prepared to wait. We hold a steady course.

We believe what St Paul has said: that those who do not give up are helped by God.

Archbishop Julian Porteous

Sunday, 4 December 2022

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