Well. the weekend did not go exactly as hoped, but it turned out OK in the end. The weather was not suitable for us to have our church celebration in the Vicarage garden so we went to the church school next door which has a covered playground. Everyone seemd to enjoy themselves. We also had a very large congregation for the service. I have to confess I was somewhat exhausted after it all, but today is a new day! I have to have a root canal done at lunch-time. Help!
I thought that today I would begin a series of four meditations for Advent. I will post them each Monday between now and Christmas. I will also post the next in my Personal Journey series tomorrow.
Have a good week!
Advent: 1. Salvation
We are about to enter the season of Advent: the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent, traditionally, has been about the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. I say traditionally because you do not hear very much about these things now. Advent has become a period of preparation for Christmas, not a time for reflection on our eternal destiny. This is significant for it reflects a more fundamental change in the nature and character of Christianity itself. Let me try to explain what I mean.
St Paul writes in his great letter to the Roman Christians that he is looking forward to coming to see them because he wants to share the message of the Gospel with them. He has already explained that the Gospel is the good news concerning Jesus Christ. In a very famous statement he writes:
'For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous by faith will live.’ (Romans 1:16-17)
This is where we normally end the quote, but it is not where Paul ends. Why, after all, do we need salvation? St Paul tells us if we continue the quote, ‘For the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of those who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.’
Christianity began, and has been understood for most of its existence, as a message about salvation, or to put it another way, about saving people. Generally speaking, we do not use this language nowadays in our sermons, Bible Studies, and general conversation in Church. We can’t exactly escape it because if you look at any hymn book, it is all there, clear for all to see! When we do find ourselves forced into using it, we focus on what it is we are saved for. The emphasis is on life: how we find peace and fulfilment in Christ, how we can learn to be whole people who know meaning and purpose in our lives.
But you can’t be saved for something unless you have been saved from something. That is what the word saved means. It is the 'from' that we do not wish to discuss, either because we don’t believe it, or think we will be unpopular, or because we simply don’t like it. The problem is that without the from, we do not have the Gospel of which St Paul was so proud to be a messenger and, consequently, we do not have the power of God either. All we have left is a human message, no different in character to any other philosophy or belief.
Christianity is in danger of becoming just another new age movement preaching a message that is not much more than a spiritualized version of the self-help books you can find in any bookshop. You know the ones: those Bridgette Jones was so addicted to which tell you how you can live a full and happy life if you do this that and the other.
Of course, it is perfectly understandable that we should want the positive side of the message, but the Christian good news is only good news because of the bad news. If you go to the doctor because you have symptoms you do not understand, he can only tell you how you can get better once he has understood and explained what’s wrong. It is only once we have understood the illness that we can find the right treatment.
The Gospel can make us better, but only once we have heard what God has to say about what is wrong with us in the first place. Now, like a patient who refuses to listen to the doctor or to take the prescribed treatment, we can do the same with God: that is the freedom that God gives us. But it is a freedom to stay ill, trying all sorts of dubious cures, many of which only serve to make us worse not better. The traditional message of Advent may not be one we want to hear, but it will start us on the road to recovery.
Or, as we used to say, to salvation.