The day after the bombing of Coventry cathedral, into the arena of tangled metal and emotions walked Provost Howard who said two words, ‘Father, forgive’. This was an acknowledgment that we are all in need of God’s forgiveness – victim and perpetrator alike, and so our work of reconciliation and peace began.
Provost Howard gave Coventry and the world a prophetic and radical message. A message still much needed today. And a message we hear on this second Sunday in Advent.
What can we as God’s people do today, what should we do, to respond and act for justice, for hope, for peace? In today’s world where white-gated communities trump cardboard shacks. Where the colour of your skin, or your gender, or your ethnicity can deny you justice.
Can we as Christians speak out to our nations, our communities, ourselves? That is what Christian Aid is doing in our work in Lebanon, and other places of conflict and suffering. We need to courageously inhabit this redeeming space of Advent, steering our communities toward peace and reconciliation and away from conflict and division.
- Baruch 5:1-9
- Malachi 3:1-4
In these readings we face God’s judgement. We will be refined, purified, stand to be judged. A messenger will come, unexpectedly, to make the path for the Lord to come to the temple. And in the temple, the Lord will judge and when we return to the Lord, we will be given glory. ‘For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.’ Jerusalem personified will forever be a place of righteousness and mercy, attributes necessary for peace. How can we translate this into today’s situation in the Holy Land, and in other conflict situations where we work?
- Philippians 1:3-11
Paul’s fervent prayer for his friends in Philippi, ‘that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight’ when Christ comes again pervades this reading. The Philippians share with Paul closely in the spreading of the gospel, in Christian community and in suffering. Paul writes that they need to be ready for the return of Christ, with a ‘return of righteousness’. Being in community, ‘in Christ’, is key for God’s people. It is also a hallmark of peacebuilding. Many of our Community of the Cross of Nails (CCN) partners in South Africa live by ‘ubuntu’, meaning ‘I exist because you exist’. How we live together with others ‘for the glory and praise of God’ is a question we deal with day to day in our work among those in conflict.
- Luke 1:68-79
- Luke 3:1-6
Zechariah has been struck dumb on hearing the news that in old age he and Elizabeth will have a child. When she is delivered of their son, Zechariah filled with the Holy Spirit names him John. Luke gives us Zechariah’s prophecy, known as the Benedictus, or blessed. Jesus, at our worst times, will be our blessing, bringing peace, righteousness and salvation. In awaiting the coming/again of Christ, God enables us to inhabit these blessings. Like Zechariah. That is how we as committed disciples of Christ can tilt our communities towards peace. That is how and why we live with difference and celebrate diversity. That is how we live with the gifts of blessing we receive as peacemakers.
In the second reading from Luke, we are pointed towards John the Baptist’s message of baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Luke emphasises that this message is for all people, not only the Jews. As we know, the world is not a comfortable space today for many – it is cold and drafty, baby Jesus is not the only one without a proper bed, the three Wise Men are not the only ones who have to journey to distant lands, and Herod is a familiar figure today too.
Let us then inhabit our Advent space in the reality of our lives in today’s world, in the knowledge that in the words of Zechariah, the Christ will come, ‘to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
In Coventry Cathedral, the Advent space of anticipation, of invitation, of reconciliation is mirrored in the ruins of the old and the rebuilt new cathedral. Standing on the Queens steps with the ruins behind, you see the face of Christ in glory on the tapestry; you see yourself reflected in the west screen with the community of saints and angels doing the reconciliation dance; and you see the ruins reflected too…the whole journey of conflict, the hope of peace and reconciliation in Christ, and our part in it all.
As we wait this Advent for the birth of the one who joins us in this space, how are we going to welcome Jesus in? And how are we going to welcome each other? And those we don’t yet know? We don’t know who will come in to our space with us. And we can’t choose. We mustn’t choose. We can’t, we mustn’t keep ‘the other’ out. Because it is in this space that we meet Christ in each other. That is the work of Christian Aid, of the CCN, and indeed of the gospel in places of conflict and suffering around the world.
These reflections for Advent 2 have been provided by the Reverend Canon Dr Sarah Hills, Canon for Reconciliation Ministry at Coventry Cathedral.