Hope in difficult times – First Sunday in Advent 2010

In Tolkien’s great book The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf the wizard tells Frodo the hobbit that the evil Lord Sauron has arisen once more, bringing war and destruction to Middle-Earth.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time”, said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

One feels that we are in another such time, when our world seems threatened; when we know too much for our comfort, and too little for certainty. The story of what Frodo did with the time given to him might offer a sort of encouragement. Tolkien was a good Catholic, and his Christian faith pervades his story, because in the end evil is defeated and the world is put to rights. The little hobbits, unimportant, not very wise, not very powerful, become the agents of salvation, through courage, endurance, hope, faithfulness, compassion and self-sacrifice. One feels that we will be needing all these virtues in the coming years, as we attempt to sort out our national finances.

One of the things we most clearly need is a sense of justice being done. The perception is that the less well-off will be made to pay for the extravagances of the wealthy. For the Minister for Finance to say “we all partied too much”, when it is clear that certain people partied a great deal more than others, gambling away the banking funds, paying themselves enormous salaries with lavish expense accounts – this increases the resentment, the sense of injustice.

Our Old Testament reading today is that beautiful poem from Isaiah about the days when “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not take up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Why this sudden outbreak of peace and prosperity? Because “The LORD will judge among the nations, and arbitrate for the many peoples”. This is a vision of the world ruled by God’s justice; when all will come to Zion to learn what God requires and how we should live together. A world tired out with aggression and greed listens to what God says about mutual co-operation, about living with justice for all.

In Advent we look to the coming of Christ in glory to judge the world. This is essentially a doctrine of great hope. Christ the judge comes to do justice and put the world to rights. In the Te Deum we say: “We believe that thou shalt come to be our Judge. We therefore pray thee, help thy servants..” Just as we find hope and encouragement in looking forward to the coming of the Righteous Judge, so we prepare ourselves for that advent by doing justice and living righteously now.

 

“O House of Jacob, come let us walk in the light of the LORD!” says Isaiah.

“Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light,” says St Paul. “Let us live honourably as in the day”.

No matter how dark the day, how cold the weather, how bleak the prospects, we are to be children of light, aglow with the fire of love and cheered by our confidence in the goodness of God. Like the little hobbits, we work to put our world to rights by our courage, endurance, hope, faithfulness, compassion and self-sacrifice. They seem very little in the face of our enemy. But not so; for we are not living out of our own virtue, but by the grace of God. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” says St Paul. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. We are very aware of our weakness; let us pray that we may also become confident of God’s all-sufficient grace, through which we can cheerfully meet our duties in difficult times.

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