“Tiocfaidh ár lá” – Third Sunday before Advent 2011

 

Tiocfaidh ár lá” – “Our day will come”. When you see that slogan written up on the wall, you know what political influences are at work! Our day will come when Ireland will be free, the four green fields will be re-united and the Brits sent packing. It works too, perhaps, as a slogan for the underclass – our day will come when the elite will be humbled and the victims of the system will be on the pig’s back. It could be the vengeance of the begrudgers, or the hope for justice that we sing in the Magnificat: “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek”. Tiocfaidh ár lá.

 

In our reading today from the prophet Amos it appears that a similar slogan was doing the rounds in the Israel of his day, 800 years before Christ. Not so much tiocfaidh ár lá as tiocfaidh lá an Tiarna, the Day of the Lord will come. The Day of the Lord will come, when he will vanquish all our enemies for us and all will be well. Amos begs to differ: and describes the Day of the Lord in terms reminiscent of a nightmare, or a horror movie.

 Ah, you who wish for the day of the Lord! Why should you want the day of the Lord? It shall be darkness, not light! – As if a man should run from a lion and be attacked by a bear; or if he got indoors, should lean his hand on the wall and be bitten by a snake! (JPS Translation)

 

Why is the Day of the Lord going to be so disastrous? Because Israel has neglected justice and righteousness. When the laws are unjust and the verdicts lack equity; when society favours the few and impoverishes the many; then the coming Day will be dark indeed for the people who have not ordered their life in righteousness. Their attempts to pawn God off with nice services and generous offerings and hearty hymn-singing will not avail.

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.  

One thing alone will satisfy the Lord’s demands:

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

 

It’s not possible to read this this morning without thinking about the protest going on at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. People protesting against the culture of greed in the financial system, against the use of public money to pay off the debts of irresponsible bankers, have camped around the Cathedral and no doubt caused a great deal of inconvenience. As I expect you know, the cathedral chapter closed the building and were going to take legal action to remove those trespassing on church property. A disagreement about this course of action led to several resignations, including that of the Dean, Graeme Knowles. It has all been a frightful mess, and the Church has not come out of it very well. The churchmen are seen to be much more comfortable singing Magnificat in their cushioned choir-stalls than living Magnificat on the street outside, where people are protesting in the name of equity and just dealing.

In fairness to the cathedral chapter, there is no easy solution to the problem. Yes, it is necessary to speak up for righteousness, and they probably should have erred on that side rather than the other. But protest is one thing: establishing a just order is something else. And while one might feel that bailing-out careless bankers is profoundly unfair, it is not clear that collapsing the house of cards by refusing to pay would necessarily leave anyone better-off. I know nothing of economics – I feel for the government ministers who have to pick their way between a rock and a hard place.

 

 In our Gospel today Jesus praises the virtue of thinking ahead. The wise bridesmaids asked themselves, “what if?”; “what if something goes wrong?”; and laid in extra oil for their lamps, just in case. For those who didn’t, the arrival of the bridegroom was a disaster. Our society risked a great deal in not looking ahead, in not asking “what if?” What if the bubble bursts? What if we can’t meet our extravagant debts? The protestors at the banks may not have the answers, but they do make us look ahead and ask questions about where we are headed. What are we doing to create a fairer world, where the poor are not made to pay for the follies of the rich? From 28 centuries ago, Amos speaks an ever-relevant word:

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

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