“What is Advent about?” asked John Bell in a radio broadcast sermon on Advent Sunday (November 27th). Is it a time for Christmas preparations (mainly in the shops), or a time for asking “What is God up to?” That might be a good question at a time when many young people are deciding not to have children, because they see the world as no longer safe and the future too insecure.
Climate change, doubt about the economy and career prospects, fears of escalating conflict between NATO and Russia, and emphasis on the “end of the world” in some religious groups, contrast with the sense of hope and optimism of a post-WW2 generation brought up with the security of the NHS and Keynesian full employment- though both were challenged by the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, and the growing economic conflict leading to the abandonment of Keynesianism and a return to Free Market ideologies in the 1970s.
Another major change is the decline of confidence in the reality of God- in the 2021 UK Census less than half (46%) claimed to be Christian, with another 15% other faiths, and the greatest growth those who claimed “no religion” (37%- especially younger people). If that is loss of faith in an “Omnipotent” God, it means discarding bad theology, because if God is Love (as the New Testament teaches), love is not omnipotent- God works through people (and not only through Christians).
Our reading was Revelation 21: the “new heaven and earth” which comes from God. Does that imply the gift of an omnipotent God with no human involvement? But Isaiah 65 (the source of Revelation 21’s imagery) imagines human co-operation: “I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth” (verse 17) and “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (verse 21). And the same sense of co-working is found in the Gospels.
Many people today describe a sense of powerless, and sometimes blaming the flood of information (and mis-information) we can now receive through the media (including social media). It is true that democracy is entirely dependent on good information, but what is needed above all is the wisdom (God-given?) to distinguish relevant from irrelevant, and to recognise that 80 to 90 percent of everything we read and see is PR and advertising.
So if we are powerless, who have we allowed to take away our power? We can become too afraid of making mistakes to take any decisions. Angela Merkel’s attempts to build better relationships with the former Soviet Union and Russia by increasing European dependency on Russian oil and gas may now appear a serious strategic error- but so have been NATO and the EU’s eastward expansion which marginalised Russia and were seen as direct threats.
The early Christians could have felt powerless in the face of the Roman Empire. What may begin as simple faith can be turned to complexity and perplexity by the realities of life- but can lead to new harmony if those realities are faced honestly. (compare https://cac.org/daily-meditations/doubt-a-necessary-tool-for-growth-2021-02-01/ )