The end of Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship in Zimbabwe was greeted with acclaim, because, amongst many other things, people were tired of violence perpetrated by the Mugabe regime. The death penalty has not been used in Zimbabwe since 2005, but there have been significant numbers of what are euphemistically described as extra-judicial killings. There has also been violence against the earth, by which I mean that a fertile country has gone to rack and ruin at the hands of people who did not understand the earth. Of course it remains to be seen if the regime of the crocodile will be any different.
I only have to mention the names of Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Israel and Palestine, and you all know the violence that is inflicted hour by hour, year by year.
And as North Korea tests ever larger missiles, the threat of violence engulfing the globe appears to grow.
You might also consider that violence being inflicted upon the earth as the United States rolls back the Clean Power Plan, as china continues to pump out goodness knows what into the atmosphere, and as the UK scales back railway electrification in favour of more diesel trains.
We have also seen people inflict violence upon other through abuse. Since Jimmy Savill, there have been ever growing numbers of claims of abuse that has gone on for far too long. Not just people, but institutions that have perpetuated violence upon individuals. Churches, schools, businesses, all manner of public institutions. The United Reformed Church may be better than some, but our hands are not clean.
In a different kind of a way, the Christian story is filled with violence. What could be more violent than the death of Jesus on the cross?
We live surrounded by violence of many different kinds, so much so that these tragedies have become part of the wallpaper of our society. As daily tragedies unfold, I wonder if we are losing our ability to be shocked by the violence of the day, as a means of coping with it. It has become so common that it’s the macabre background music of our culture, the background noise of a world at play that is too distracted to be shocked by daily horror. It’s easy for us to look away, to believe that like Pontius Pilate we’re not guilty because we do not do the deeds ourselves.
How can we make sense of this, when we cannot solve all the problems of the world, and they are not our fault?
From some perspectives the end of the world has already come, and this type of ending has happened again and again throughout human history. There’s no doubt that similar violence and disasters occurred in Jesus’ generation as much as in ours. Today, 2000 years later, God never seems to act when we human beings expect him to act. And God never seems to act in the way that we expect him to act.
The Israelites waited centuries for their Messiah, and those who expected a glittering king on a shining white charger at the head of a vast supernatural army, were offered instead a baby born out of wedlock. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and God’s ways are not our ways. Is not in fact the case that God is always knocking on the door, but mostly we humans are so poorly tuned into God that we fail to hear him or to recognise him?
Advent is a time which can put all that right. It’s a time of darkness which looks forward towards the coming of the light at Christmas. If we want to be ready to receive that light, then we need to use the dark hours of Advent to tune into God, to make sure we’re well and truly prepared.
Amidst all the violence of the world around us, Advent reminds not only that God is there and active, if only we could see God, but much more than that, There is no collateral damage in the loving embrace of God. God counts no-one and nothing as dispensable. This is why God sent a son to save a broken and hurting people and a broken and hurting world. The coming of Christ among us was not only God becoming human, but a means for humanity to become more like God.
Advent is a time for us to wait, a time for us to wonder at the coming of Christ. Sorrow and affliction have staked their claim on us in the midst of so many tragedies, yet we can look with longing eyes toward the beauty of the glory of God revealed in a tiny baby, born in poverty. Facing the chaos and rage of a fumbling creation, Christ enters not taking up arms to defeat the enemy, but lying in the arms of his mother, disarming hatred with love. Undoing anger with mercy. Releasing the hold of death by triumphing over the grave.
This is Advent, a season of waiting. We wait. Our communities wait. Our nation waits. Those who weep, those who mourn, and those who fear, wait for they have had enough. Enough of blood. Enough of tears. Enough of Death. Enough. Advent is here. It is a season of waiting. We wait for God to take action for the healing of the world, we wait for God to say, “Enough!”
And God is waiting for us. God is waiting for us to say, “Enough.”