Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
2 December 2018
Here we are on the threshold of a new year of witness and service.
It is Advent Sunday, and Christmas is just around the corner.
Between now and then we have an opportunity to reflect on the core spiritual values that shape our preparation for the Christ Child and our mission to this city and region.
Over each of the next few Sundays we will focus on these core values:
They sound strangely familiar, and yet rather out of place in our contemporary world.
Hope! Our world and our nation seem hope-less at the present time. There is clearly a hope deficit. Trust is low. Fear is on the rise. More on that in a moment.
Peace? Words fail. Violence continues to tear apart families, villages, cities and nations. Camellia will guide our reflections on peace when we gather next Sunday.
Joy. The carols are playing on the muzak but road rage in the car parks at our shopping centres indicates that joy is often only skin deep, and below the surface we are angry and aggressive. Just try merging in the traffic leading to the Grafton bridge. What joy abounds. Not.
Love. ‘What the world needs now’ is sadly lacking in so many of our everyday transactions with one another. Yet this is to be the hallmark of those who follow Jesus. We are not called to be correct, but we are called to love one another, turn the other cheek, to help the needy, and to go the second mile.
Our focus this morning is hope.
Hope is an attitude of the heart and it lies somewhere between wishful thinking and certainty.
It is not whistling in the dark to keep our fears at bay.
Nor is it a cocky self-confidence that acts as if we have the answers.
It is easy enough to list words that describe the absence of hope or the opposite of hope:
There is no shortage of those things in our world, among our family and friends, in our neighbourhood, and in our workplaces.
As Jesus people we overturn those grim realities and Advent is a time to recall that we are first of all people of hope.
The readings set for today do not really help all that much. They tend to focus on the great reversal at the end of time, and perhaps even encourage us to derive some degree of hope from our perverted anticipation of how God is going to punish those who make us afraid for the future.
That is what apocalyptic literature is designed to do: raise the hopes of victims who are suffering from more powerful opponents. But that literature trades on violence and simply imagines ‘them’ getting a serious dose of what ‘they’ have been dishing out to ‘us’.
Apocalyptic texts offer spiritual steroids for critical moments, but not a long-term dietary supplement for a healthy life.
Such violent images of divine retribution are deadly when matched with spiritual or military power. Look how the violent apocalyptic images of Revelation turned into state violence against the Jews once the Christian religion gained access to imperial power.
We do not derive our hope from imagining the destruction of those with whom we disagree.
And we do not ‘sell’ hope to ourselves and our neighbours by spreading fear.
That is not the way of Jesus.
We proclaim hope, not fear.
We invite, rather than impose our values on others.
We create safe places to explore grace, rather than define the boundaries to keep people out.
Our doors are open. Our hearts are open. Our minds are open.
Such a mindset is the ground of hope: for us and for others.
We want to multiply hope, to see it spread beyond us to others. We want to see hope go viral. We do not seek to control it, define it, limit it, or restrict it. The more people who have some real hope the better our world will be: less fearful, more compassionate, more generous and less violent.
We don’t build walls in a hopeful world. Not in Palestine and not on the Mexico border. Those walls will fall; because they represent fear, not hope. As do the off-shore detention centres.
When God’s kingdom comes, as we ask each time we say the Lord’s Prayer, there will be no room for fear or violence.
When Mary sings the Magnificat on that day, we shall celebrate that the mighty have been cast down from their thrones and that the humble and meek have been raised up. But there will be no walls and no eternal detention centres. Even Hell itself will be empty. Its gates will be ripped off by the victorious Christ, and all its inmates will be freed.
And the church will no longer exploit the fear of death and judgment to coerce compliance with its views of how other people should live their lives. The forgiveness racket will be broken.
Imagine a world like that.
Imagine a church like that.
Such is the shape and the power of hope.
So today we ask God to nurture the seed of hope within us.
Let it grow and let hope transform our lives, our church, our community and our world.