Saturday, 29 November 2014

An Alternative Advent

If you have read my blogs, are a Facebook friend or listen to me preach then you will know how much I value the season of Advent.

There are very many reasons for this. To be honest, I suspect that part of it is simply linked to my personality. I am the type of person who gets a great deal of pleasure out of anticipation (and remembrance for that matter); sometimes even more than from the actual thing that is being anticipated (or remembered)!

But as I have also often said, there are theological reasons for my appreciation of Advent. Amongst the many is the fact that the Lectionary readings and, indeed, the very theme of the season, make us face up to the fact (and the mystery... even perhaps the frustration!) that we live in the ‘in between’ time - in between the First Advent (the Birth of Jesus) and the Second Advent (his Coming again, and please note that I am neither pressing nor suggesting only one possible interpretation of this awaited event!)

I tend towards the view (it is called ‘inaugurated eschatology’ if you are interested!) that  there are both ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ aspects to the Kingdom of God. In other words, in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the coming and promised Kingdom of God was ‘inaugurated’ and, indeed, continues to break into the here and now through the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit (so I suppose you might call my view ‘Pentecostal eschatology’??) but yet there remains an ’age to come’ in which the Kingdom of God will be fully established.

Now, as I say, I am not willing to force any particular specific interpretation of the how, the what or the when of this (certainly not!).

But  for me it is a view (best articulated by the theologian Oscar Cullman) that makes sense of the fact that I see and know God’s action and presence in the 'here and now' in so many ways, and yet, there are other realities too. Prayers are answered, but not all; I have seen God work in marvellous ways, but only sometimes; etc etc.

I have not explained this very well, but it is only a short(ish) blog!!

My point is that this is one of the things that I love about Advent. I deeply appreciate the opportunity this season offers for reflection on all of this and the attempted explanation of it in preaching and discussion.

And so it is with a deep sense of bereavement that I find that I will be missing both the First and Second Sundays of Advent.... one because of illness and the other because I will be on holiday... yes, of course I can still join in worship, and being on holiday is not a bad thing (although I think I wish I was feeling healthier to enjoy it!) But I will not have the opportunity to lead worship, offer public prayer or preach until so far through Advent that the pressure will be on to talk about shepherds and angels and (even!) wise men!!

But on further reflection I have realised that the very reason I am missing these (mainly illness) is in itself an illustration of my thoughts about living in this between time, this ‘already’ but ‘not yet’ age.

As people have shown concern for me in my health challenges in these last few weeks, several have said something along the lines of, ‘I pray for you; I so wish God would answer my prayers’.

Well, as you may imagine, I know what they mean!

I have prayed frequently for folks to be healed... and I have seen remarkable answers to these prayers!..... sometimes.

On occasion, I have myself been healed in response to prayer and ministry for things such as a relatively minor twisted knee... but not for this ongoing, debilitating and more serious condition of Multiple Sclerosis.


And I suppose that this is where I come back to the thought about living in these in between times. It is also at this point that I re-affirm my underlying Calvinism in its affirmation of the sovereignty of God in all things. (What do you know? I seem to be a Calvinist, Pentecostal, non-fundamentalist, anti-literalist, inaugurated eschatologist! That’s me folks!)

And as for Advent reflection? Well, it will not happen (this year at least) so much in worship, but will be in the context of personal prayer and meditation as I reflect on the present health realities I face and speak to and listen to God with regard to these in the light of the promise of his coming Kingdom, and the fact that I believe that kingdom was inaugurated in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and breaks into this present age in the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, but a Kingdom whose final and full establishment we await in hope.

And so, what does that all mean for me, now?

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