Monday, 7 December 2009

Advent themes: no rushing towards Christmas

no rushimg towards christmas

Heading home on the TransPennine Express

I couldn’t get to the meeting I was supposed to attend in Birmingham today. The first sign that things were going awry was when the 07.45 from Barnetby was held outside Doncaster station for 20 mins ‘waiting for a platform to become free’; not a good sign. On arrival I looked at the platform departure screen and discovered that my train to Birmingham had been cancelled. OK then, so back onto the TransPennine express to go through to Sheffield where I can pick up a later connection to Birmingham. No. The conductor announced that the service was terminating at Doncaster. Then it became apparent that rail services to Sheffield were in complete disarray. The reason: thieves had stolen a cable during the night somewhere near Conisbrough and put the signals out of action. Unbelievable. Except that it has happened before, and more than once. So off I went to the coffee shop on platform 2 to enjoy a latte whilst passing the time before the train I had come in on would be ready to depart back in the direction of home. A chance then to pick up the book I have decided to read during Advent, Jesus a revolutionary biography.

The opening chapters take the reader deep into classic Advent territory: the life and death of John the Baptist. Crossan asks a perceptive question as we look to understand the context of John’s ministry in the wilderness: “How do oppressed people react to overbearing cultural seductiveness, overpowering military superiority, overwhelming economic exploitation, and overweening social discrimination?”  John the Baptist’s answer was to baptise them. “When people came to him, he kept sending them back from the wilderness, through the Jordan, which washed away their sins, and, purified and ready, into the Promised Land, there to await the imminent coming of the redeeming and avenging God. What he was forming, in other words, was a giant system of sanctified individuals, a huge web of apocalyptic expectations, a network of ticking time-bombs all over the Jewish homeland.

John preached a baptism of repentance; in other words a radical change of direction on the part of the baptised. He was very clear regarding the ethical and moral dimensions of this spiritual transformation. Behaviour had to change and the old prophetic truths of God’s shaping of a people of mercy, kindness, justice, peace and compassion were to be re-applied. John's single-minded intention is to reawaken Jewish identity as made in the image of God and in so doing subvert  the plans and practices of the oppressors. And the key to this political end was spiritual and faith-based. He was determined to prepare the people for what God was about to do. And at Christmas we celebrate the utter shock and surprise of what God was actually preparing through the Christ-Child born in Bethlehem. Not vengeance but resistance of an altogether more radical kind.

So John the Baptist wants to disrupt our travel plans. We will be sent back the way we have come. If Advent has done its work we will be returned to ourselves and others as those full of godly expectation and commitment. As Christmas rushes towards us in a blur we will travel slowly and reflectively, expectantly and hopefully. We will pause and immerse ourselves in holy truths and rise up refreshed and purposeful. Only then will we be truly ready for what God has in store.

no rushing towards christmas 2


  1. :) It's interesting that we both wrote about taking heed not to rush around like a chicken with its head cut off during this CHRISTmas celebration. i wrote about the three Marys and be more a Mary and less a Martha this time of year when the hustle and bustle of activities can draw us away from our intimate fellowship with the One we're honoring and celebrating.


    Is it just me, or do you also feel as if time is going faster than ever? Like an hour is still an hour; but in GOD's time, it's passing at a faster rate? And we are being brought closer to that Second Advent...rushing into it, not of our own volition, but that GOD's hand is turning the hands of His mighty clock just a tad faster.

  2. Wow, I love that description of a network of ticking time bombs all over the Jewish homeland... advent themes and baptisms of repentance are uncomfortable yet essential themes aren't they?

    I wonder sometimes if we spend too much time domesticating advent, and the we fail to see the cost and the toil or is it simply that we find them so unpalatable that we hide from the truth, we need a fresh baptism!

  3. Thanks rln for your helpful take on Mary;finding the stillness to be present to God and the faith to accept what then arises is a good Advent theme. And Sally, I am really pleased that you have run with Crossan's imagery and I wholeheartedly agree with you regarding the dangers of domesticating Advent.