Third Sunday of Advent - 11th December, 2016
Liturgical ReflectionIs 35:1–6a, 10; Ps 146: 6–7, 8–9, 9–10; Jas 5:7–10; Mt 11:2–11
It’s the new normal, stupid. Our navy keeping out people whose sons and grandsons will obviously be terrorists. Children detained on Nauru; our government legislating to stop their parents ever entering Australia. Britain trying to be great again by leaving Europe. The United States ditto by electing Donald Trump. A world afraid, head in the glorious dust of the past. The Aussie way of life. The Aussie Christmas.
Advent III. The old normal. Christmas plans in place by now. Will it be “Hark the herald” or “Once in royal” at Midnight Mass?—ah, issue of issues! Wrapping paper with Santas or geometrical designs? Vanity fair.
How did we hear today’s beautiful first reading? Old normal? Year after year at the school carol service, our favourite reading. “God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world”—no, no, it can’t be, think of Aleppo!
New abnormal, then? Let’s try that.
Do you remember the apocalyptic Gospel reading that came around the Sunday after Trump’s election? The one from Luke that speaks of “wars, insurrections, … earthquakes, famines, plagues.” The first reading that day, from Malachi, fits perfectly. The day’s epistle doesn’t fit, but it serves perfectly for herding parishioners back into their comfort zone. Father Nameless preached of the quotidian necessity of work.
Why not look that reading straight in the face? The accelerating destruction of our habitat will probably create new, intensified conflict over resources, with “wars and insurrections” in ethnocultural or religious guise. Why should Australia be exempt?
It is perhaps only by placing ourselves in the crowd hurtling towards resource depletion, desertification, salinization, hunger, racial persecution and unprecedentedly destructive warfare that we can sense the power of that reed swayed by the desert wind, the prophetic voice calling “the wilderness and the arid place” into the gladsome blossoming of fragrant gardens. For today’s reading from Isaiah to strike us anew, we must not stop at the beauty of the language but think empathetically of the bondage of the Jewish exiles in Babylon and their contemporary counterparts in exile on Nauru. To understand the promise of relief, we must first grasp oppression as if we ourselves were the oppressed.
What, then, to do to make the miracle of Christmas new-abnormal? Christ, joker in the pack, grower of “young green corn” on parched and barren heart-land—how shall we go out into the desert of new-normality and encounter Him there?
H.D. (with quotations from Browning and Masefield)