Summary: Advent in the postmodern period
In the Christian community Advent has seen changes. The word is taken from the Latin Adventus, meaning to move towards. We Christians are moving towards the birth of Christ which will come at Christmas. In the Church, we are called upon to prepare our hearts and minds to receive Christ. The season in the church has two themes: one is penitential and the other is joyful. It is penitential for we are called upon to be in prayer and prepare our lives spiritually and wait for the return of the Christ. The season is also joyful, for we are also called upon to celebrate the gift of the Christ child and his birth. The great festival of Christmas in our own time in the church, calls for a joyful celebration for we remember in the words of the Prophet Isaiah that unto us a child will be born, a son will be given and the government shall be upon his soldiers, and his name will be called wonderful, counselor, everlasting father and the prince of peace (Isa. 9 : 6 -7)
In this season of advent in our postmodern world, these dual themes have torn us apart. It was easy in the 7th century when everyone in the church was required to fast and any kind of festivity was forbidden. That changed in the Middle Ages and the people of the church were reminded to look joyously towards Christmas. In our own time, we have forgotten about the penitential theme and we are now more interested in the joyous theme. Yet, paradoxically matters of faith have taken a back seat to spirituality. People are now more spiritual than religious. Individuals are now more in search of meaning in a world that sometimes does not seem to make sense. Answers from religious creeds and dogmas are increasingly devoid of meaning to issues that are new in human experience. It does not help when the challenges to the old theology and teachings are mounted by religious leaders within the church itself. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. questioned pious religious irrelevancy on Sunday mornings from pulpits in light of the apparent racism expressed by the day of worship being the most segregated day of the week. Science has raised more moral questions in our time and many have found that digging into the old theologies, made irrelevant by political ideologies, is no longer adequate to answer the questions that many face. The American Philosopher, William James summed the angst that many feel when he stated that the world appears insane to many because the beliefs that they hold no longer makes sense. Here lies the view of the world from the prism of existentialism. The world appears absurd and meaningless to some; but for the postmodernists the need to seek meaning and re –discover the self, in light of all that is happening around us, is important.
Our reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 64 : 1 – 9, is a prayer from God’s people struggling with making sense of the world just as we are now. The speaker wishes that God would just come down from Heaven and show God’s power just like it happened in times of old. Yet there is acknowledgement that God abhors sins and work with those “who rejoices in doing righteousness” v. 5. There is also an acknowledgement that there is sinfulness in the land “..all of us have become like one who is unclean” v.6. Yet no matter the sins of the land, the prophet calls on God “But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father, We are the clay, Thou art the potter” Our passage ends with a plea for forgiveness.
As it was in times of old, we too have discovered that no matter the existential angst and no matter where we roam, we too can run to God who is our guide and protector. We discover that we can run to the source of all knowledge and that we can find meaning for our lives in the scripture. Advent is a time to take a look at our busy lives and the promise of God’s redemptive power. No, we are not going to blame the misdeeds of others in the past on religion. But we need to take a deeper look at what our lives mean. What does the old story of God coming in the flesh means to us in 2017? What does it mean to seek belongingness, to look to become and to be who we think we are? Who are we and why are we here? Can we discover anew the meaning of what it is to be alive and can we be guided by such meaning? Perhaps, the best question to ask may be why are we here and what is the purpose for our lives? In light of these questions, perhaps one more question that is relevant here should be: does the old story still has usefulness for our lives? Yes, we in our ministry borrow from the old liturgical arrangement but it is purposely done to bring awareness to the old story and to call our attention to its meaning in our lives in a postmodern world.