Posted: November 27, 2019 in Uncategorized


In a world where the best can come out of the worst

and the worst can come out of the best!


Here we are again. It is again the first Sunday in Advent. The season of waiting is upon us. The season of anticipation occupies our minds. We are again asked to recognize the present-ness of God in nature and in the one called Jesus of Nazareth – the human face of the one we name God. But unlike most of the northern hemisphere of our world, where the church liturgical calendar was first shaped, our today is the first official day of Summer. And Summer in New Zealand is a natural time for celebration. Even in times of drought or flash flood or grass fire. Even in the face of these there is new life and new growth to be seen, ripeness and richness, as plant and bush and tree display their many colours against the browning of our rich yet shaky isles. Nature is a gift in Summer in New Zealand with its continuous and reachable shoreline of warm sands and living inspiring seas. And we anticipate it’s arrival eagerly. Our Hope is real and certain and inviting.


In the church lectionary which I use as a challenge to my subjectivity and as a basis for granting the scriptures their due attention and integrity today is the first Sunday in Advent, yet the readings set down in the Lectionary for today have nothing whatsoever to do with our perceptions of either Advent or the coming season called Christmas. For instance, if we approach Matthew as a narrative, today’s reading comes about 9/10th of the way through the book… Closer to the end of the complete story than to the beginning. This suggests that they come to us totally out of context.


Secondly, as we know with most of the stories from the scriptures the readings paint diverse pictures of a world quite different from ours today. This alone, demands that we see these stories or readings as not being directed to a time thousands of years later – into our time. as seems to be assumed by some who shaped the Lectionary. A far better place to start would be the beginning of Matthew, the genealogy of Jesus. Where the best can come out of the worst. the worst can come out of the best! Having said that we now have to ask what if anything are we to make of these stories?


A few years back now process theologian John Cobb made some suggestions that might help. He says that those who have selected these passages “understand Advent to be the season of anticipation, of expectancy, and hope generally… And in all the texts the hope is grounded in faith in God.” (Cobb. P&F Web site, 2004)


So continuing to listen to John Cobb for a few more moments, we ask what can we learn from and hear in, these stories? Well! We can acknowledge that we human beings are not good at predicting the future. We can appreciate that the actual course of history is far more ambiguous than are the visions that lure us forward. We can realise that an interventionist God does not control the future or know just what will happen. And we can hear also that the hope which keeps us going is far deeper and more fundamental to our faith than we realise. “Hope has survived repeated disappointments in the past.  It will survive many more in the future.  It will do so as long as we believe in the biblical God.” (Cobb, P&F Web site, 2004) A God not made in our image.


It is true that such a statement needs clarification because such a statement presupposes that God’s working in history does not displace the working of human beings and that can be a bit of a shock to those who believe God is all-powerful! That all-powerful God could ‘do something’ in various situations so what happened?


John Cobb explains his comment a bit more. The quote is a bit detailed so we need to listen carefully. “God works in hope for peace and justice, but the world turns to violence and oppression.  Still God’s work is not futile.  Here and there it succeeds, encouraging the hope for wider and more inclusive success.  That success depends on our response to God’s invitation to share in the achievement of God’s purposes.  And our hope depends on the assurance that God does not give up on us” (Cobb, P&F Web site, 2004).


Here I would suggest we think about hope as having an active meaning as opposed to a passive one or maybe a meaning closer to trust as opposed to a benign wishful thought.

There is a subtle certainty to the sort of hope I suggest, just like that of my suggestion that another word for ‘God’ is ‘Almost’.


Despite frustration and disappointment, we are still called to be a people of hope. For hope is what is handed down from mother to daughter to son, not merely as a package passed from one generation to another. But as hope which is alive in mother and daughter and which now lives in the child of the third generation.


Today is the first Sunday in Advent. A time of waiting… a time of change… a time of hope.

In none of the Three-Year Lectionary stories set for the first Sunday during the season of Advent, are there stories “of babies or shepherds or stars or lullabies, but maybe these stories are saying that the world, as we know it, is about to change.  Maybe their message is ‘wake up, pay attention, get ready… Strange words, but maybe we need something jarring to lift us out of our complacency and wake up to something new” (ETigner. “Twilight time. A sermon” First Cong. Church web site, 2009). So, in the face of waiting, of change, yet in the continuation of hope itself I want to tell you a story. Some of you will have heard it before but I hope it will engage you again.


The story is that in Dresden, the German city that was devastated by the fire-bombing at the end of the World War 2, was the place of a wonderful discovery. They found in the ruins a musical score that had survived the fire and devastation. It was the score to Albinoni’s ‘Adagio for Strings and Orchestra in B Minor’.

In the midst of this devastation of war – the very worst that we do to each other – there survived something of the most beautiful that we create for each other.


The Albinoni piece became a sign of hope. And it has been used that way. During the siege of Sarajevo during the Balkans War, the city was shelled month after month, every single night. On one of those nights a group of people standing in line in front of a bakery were waiting to buy bread. A mortar shell fell right in the middle of them. Twenty-two people were killed. Innocent people. Hungry people.  Wanting to buy bread.

A few days later, at the same spot, in front of the burned-out bakery, a man named Vedran Smailovic placed a chair, and began to play his cello.


For 22 days he played his cello, one day in memory for each one of the people who had been killed at that spot. That gesture itself was considered wonderful. Just the playing music. But what gave it deeper significance is the music he played each day was ‘Adagio for Strings and Orchestra in B Minor’.


Play Sarajevo’s Adagio…

In the very worst that we do to each other hope says that there is something of the most beautiful that we create for each other.


Another way of understanding the nature of hope is another story that goes like this….

This story is a tongue in cheek one that contains both the traditional understand of God and one that supports the answer I gave to Gordon’s question about the claim that we are the Christ.


It is said that when God finished with Creation, she had a desire to leave behind, just a small piece of divinity and wholeness so humans could experience this delight. But God was a bit of a trickster too, so she didn’t want this to be too easy for human beings. She wasn’t sure, at first, where to put this special something, so she asked the other living things in creation. And someone suggested in the stars and God replied, No, I have this feeling that one-day humankind will explore space and they will find it. Someone else suggested hiding it in the depths of the ocean. God thought about it for a moment and answered, No. She also had a feeling that some-day humankind would explore the deepest places in the seas – that was also too easy. Then suddenly, God had it. “I know where I’ll put this special something, a place where they will never look.
I’ll hide it in them, they will never look there.” And so, it was. And so, it has been (FJMuir 2001:114).

Hope.  We have it.  Without it, we cannot live. Advent hope calls to us, lures us, to breathe another n\breath, to pause for another look, it offers us another alternative, it shakes off the doldrums – and in banishes fear. For this Advent hope, first announced by angels to shepherds, “means that despite appearances people of violence are no longer in control of history… that those who would seek to determine history’s outcome through violence will never succeed… That love and peace are more powerful than might and strength. Hope claims that love changes things, that love overcomes evil. When the angels announced the coming of Christ to the shepherds their first words are ‘fear not'” (Northcott 2010:17). Fear not. Hope is more than wishful thinking because it says step into the mystery of life, the whole of life. Amen.

Muir, J. J. Heretics’ Faith. Vocabulary for Religious liberals. Annapolis: F. J. Muir, 2001.
Northcott, M. S. Cuttlefish, Clones and Cluster Bombs. Preaching, Politics and Ecology. London: DL&T, 2010.

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