‘The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’ – Matt 4:16
Today is not an easy day to be tasked with writing a blog post, since there’s only one subject on everyone’s minds. On the other hand, my task isn’t half as difficult as the Prime Minister’s, facing a vote of no confidence in her leadership this evening.
There’s no denying that this year’s Advent period has been a strange one. Christians across the country participate in Sunday worship and daily devotionals, intended to draw nearer to Christ and cultivate a heart’s posture of quiet, patient hope. The annual Advent season in the UK often coincides with a general feel of festivity—a national mood of good cheer—that helps the hopeful heart on its way. We may be used to the language of entering Advent to find peace during personal trials or difficulties, but difficulties on our specific national level, seem less familiar. Indeed, we often take for granted that our country, as a whole, is relatively ‘okay’.
Not so this year. Over the past two weeks we’ve gone from a Brexit deal on the table, to its likely rejection, to a postponed vote, to renewed calls for a People’s Vote, to May returning to EU leaders for backstop concessions. Then finally, today, a no confidence vote in her leadership which (if successful) would disrupt the entire process. Each step towards certainty or ‘orderly Brexit’ has been thrown back into disruption. National cheer and goodwill is hard to find at the current moment.
What then should Christians do with their personal devotions? How can we ensure there is not a disconnect between private peace and national tumult? Perhaps we could re-orientate ourselves around our understanding of the arrival of Jesus, not just as our personal peace-bringer, but also as the Lord and King of the Nations (King of the UK, Lord over the EU, Lord over the Brexit Process).
We might also find ourselves leaning on the power of waiting and anticipation—waiting and hoping for both the individual and for the nation. Christ’s light is always waiting to break in on our communities and nation (on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned, is dawning, will dawn). These are the three comings of Christ (which Christians hold in their various tensions): in the flesh in Bethlehem, in our hearts daily, and in glory at the end of time. With these hopes, we will not withdraw, but rather shine. In light of this coming week, the government’s challenges, Brexit and advent, here are three practical steps for all of us:
- Prepare your heart in prayer. Although things cannot stay at the personal level, they must begin at the personal level. Commit your own fears and anxieties to God and find a renewed strength before entering the fray.
- Then, be careful in your speech, likes and retweets. Something as simple as ‘liking’ a flippant social media post that demonises the ‘other side’ or oversimplifies the debate can have an influence that works against hope.
- And, crucially, listen avidly to the concerns of others. Do not withdraw from the debate, but carry wisdom, patience, peace-building and resilience into the midst of it.
Let me close with this poem about Mary, which has been strong in my imagination this week. To me, it carries the tension between reality and hope; reinforcing the need to be here, present, in the thick of things.
Into the middle
Into the mess
The time for convenience gone,
controversy fully upon us
Bear the journey heavy expectant
Bear rejection, the familiar distant
Carry yourself dignified
Carry the very world inside
An ancient truth incarnated
A life brand-new now animated
Hear it deeply
Hear it and know:
By Emily Hearing
Phrasing taken from Journeyinto the Heart of God: Living the Liturgical Year, Philip H.Pfatteicher. The ‘three comings’ are attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux.