In this country a change of government after a general election is immediate, almost brutal. On polling day itself removal vans and crews stand by, ready for action if they need to exit the old and bring in the new at number 10 Downing Street. And the politicians themselves plan suitable responses to the success or failure of their campaigns.
They do things differently in America as we’re seeing at the moment. They elect their political representatives and their President in November but he or she only becomes Mr or Madam President when he or she is sworn in as POTUS, President of the United States. Until then he or she is Mr or Madam President Elect.
They call this period between election and inauguration the transition time. There’s a planned changeover of power with the outgoing workers preparing the way for the new White House staff to begin their duties.
And, as we’re seeing in this transition period, the President Elect discusses policies and makes various appointments: his Chief of Staff, Secretary of State and so on.
But it seems to me that it’s not just America that’s in a stage of transition and change, uncertainty and perhaps fears for the future.
There’s instability throughout the world and in our own country. In the Middle East we have terrifying conflicts in Iraq and Syria, extreme tension generally between west and east and, at home and in other European countries, an atmosphere of suspicion and hatred in which innocent people are under attack because of their colour, nationality, religion or political stance.
I do wonder if what the world desperately needs and longs for is someone to lead us who is worthy of respect, honourable, just, wise and understanding of our plight and with the power of God to be the one true leader of a world that is free and peaceful and where no-one is hurt or destroyed.
If so, aren’t we very like the people of Jerusalem and all Judea who are flocking to see and hear John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of heaven. He refers to himself as the voice described by Isaiah, calling out in the wilderness “Prepare the way of the Lord”.
How the people of Israel long to be free of the occupying and oppressive forces of Rome.
How they long for Messiah, the chosen one of God, to be their King.
And like them, don’t we also want someone
- who won’t make judgements based on hearsay or false appearances,
- whose integrity is never in doubt,
- who will bring peace and reconciliation to the fiercest of enemies,
- who will end want and suffering and
- who will bring in the true Kingdom of God.
We’re invited during Advent to prepare for celebrations of the birth of Jesus, God in the form of a tiny vulnerable baby born into a dark and dangerous world.
But we’re also invited to go with the people of Jerusalem and all Judea to the bank of the River Jordan to listen to John the Baptist and this may not be an entirely comfortable experience.
Because John cries out a solemn warning about how we personally need to change and take individual responsibility for our part in the evils of the world. He proclaims that we need to repent, to turn away from wrong living and choose God’s ways. We’re invited to look at ourselves closely and honestly, to face up to our failures to love God and our neighbours.
Because just as John told the Pharisees and Sadducees, that brood of vipers, that just being children of Abraham isn’t enough I dare to wonder if he might not say to us that it’s not enough to be baptised Christians and to go to church. The one who is more powerful than John can see into our hearts and minds and he really is going to sort out the wheat and the chaff and that will be even more uncomfortable than sitting on the bank of the Jordan river.
We are called to bear fruit worthy of repentance, to turn our lives round so that our change of heart is manifested in how we live our own lives and how we treat others.
Our preparations for celebrating the birth of Jesus will come to fruition on Christmas Day when we unwrap presents and eat good food. It will pass so quickly and the attention of our commercial business world will immediately turn and start focussing on St Valentine’s Day, Mothers’ Day and then Easter, leaving the stable and the manger far behind until next year. But our preparations for the coming of the one who is greater than John must continue if we are to change our world.
Our honest self-examination and Advent repentance cannot stop on Christmas day, and we’re not expected to become perfect in four, now three, short weeks. Our journey of faith and repentance is a lifetime pilgrimage. We walk together through this time of transition, the time between Jesus being born in Bethlehem and Christ returning as Judge and Ruler of all. We walk together, doing our best and sometimes just muddling through as best we can like this character, Dominic, in a book by Catherine Fox:
“No, stop fretting. Not my responsibility. We’ll muddle through. That’s all we can ever do, thinks Dominic. Live generously, muddle through. Keep on walking towards the light, beckoned on by little glimpses of glory, until finally we arrive home. And then the meaning will burst in on us. Oh, it was you, it was you all along! No more marrying and giving in marriage. Everything will be scooped up, everything will marry up. Everything in heaven and on earth. And no one will be left outside weeping any more.”
So, my brothers and sisters, let’s live generously and keep walking towards the light watching out for those little glimpses of glory and with our hearts and minds set on the day that will come, when the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord just as water covers the sea and no one is left outside weeping any more.