Reflection given by Revd Maggie Hindley Sunday 29th November 2020
A friend far away who is coming, traumatically, out of a traumatically abusive marriage, messaged me this week:
One day, if I get there,
I might be able to go right back to the beginning!
That’s what’s needed to understand where I am today.
Even without knowing any of the story, isn’t it easy to understand that feeling of wanting to go back to a more innocent time, before all the bad stuff happened, and start again? In the words of the poem by William Cowper, which we use as a hymn:
Where is the blessedness I knew
when first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
of Jesus and his word?
I’m reminded of that thing I often forget when my laptop has got into a complete mess; that there’s this thing called system restore where you can replace your settings with how they were yesterday or last week or last month. Phew! The relief. Back to normal. You can carry on.
The psalmist didn’t have a laptop to mess up. David did mess up several other things; notably when he impregnated another man’s wife and then arranged for that man to be killed. Maybe – although the psalm is about a time of national emergency – maybe some of the anguish of that terrible error is reflected in today’s psalm:
Verse 3: Restore us, O God; let your face shine that we may be saved.
Verse 7: Restore us, O God of hosts: let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Verse 19: Restore us, O Lord God of Hosts, let your face shine, that we may be saved.
It’s been a strange and terrible year – or few years, really. I wonder what you would wish to go back to if you could do a system restore on your own life and on the life of the world you live in? Of course, we all look back to the days of ‘normality’ before the pandemic. And lots of us would like to go back to days when we were less creaky and less tired and could remember things (that one’s not going to happen!). Maybe there’s a messiness in your life that you regret – relationships you want to mend but can’t, sad ways that time and gifts have been wasted, mistakes that can’t be undone…..Maybe there has been a time when God seemed close and we were clear about our life’s trajectory, when decisions made themselves easily, and maybe that’s no longer the case. And I wonder if, like me, you think back also to before the Brexit vote, or before the days of highly narcissistic leaders, or before we worried about climate change. Maybe you think back to the days when people actually went to church, and believed, and things like character and duty and truth telling had some meaning in our society.
If so, then here and now is a good place to be. It’s Advent Sunday, the beginning of a new church year, a new cycle in the continuing story of salvation, a place to start again. A day to press the system restore button. God still loves us. God still saves us. God is opening up for us new ways of being and of doing. All is not lost. Any time soon we will begin to see the buds of next year’s foliage.
Our reading from First Corinthians reminds us that we have everything we need already. The grace of God is still active within us; we have been enriched in speech and knowledge of everything that matters, our conviction has grown; we are full of spiritual gifts – and we are waiting; looking forward, not back. How is that true for you as an individual and us as churches? For all the pull of negative things, for all the anxiety we experience living in a difficult world in a difficult time, isn’t God there at the heart of it, growing like yeast in a lump of bread dough, shining through the cracks of our losses and disappointments, strengthening us as we go through the painful things we have to go through? And isn’t God calling us, calling us, to be more aware of and more thankful for the life of the Spirit that never dies?
So, today’s invitation is to treasure that life in the Spirit. We can’t initiate it; we can’t control it, but we can cherish it, giving thanks for all that it has meant for us. We can nourish it, by our openness to its presence in our lives and in the world. We can let it grow in us, not treating it as an add-on but letting it permeate our hopes and dreams and decision making, our relationships, the way we relate to our failures and disappointments as though God were working through them and not in spite of them. We could use the system restore available to us at the start of the church’s year to go back to a time when God was real to us and take that living consciousness through into the days ahead.
If we do that, we will also develop a sense for what is real and wholesome, for what really matters, beyond our own lives – in our families and among our friends, in church, in our city and nation and world. There is no going back to how things were when – maybe – we were comfortable and at home with them, but there is going forward, under the hand of God, into what is new. Maybe you can detect some little signs of that already, in the good pieces of news that have made our TV newsreaders almost smile this last month. And we can align ourselves with what is good as we continue to speak out and act against what remains ugly, and unjust, and narcissistic, and life-destroying in our leaders and our public life.
Victorian hymn writer, Dora Greenwell, writes, in one of our few hymns in the Advent section:
Thou bringest all again; with thee
is light, is space, is breadth and room
for each thing fair, beloved and free
to have its hour of life and bloom.
I wish you light and space and breadth and room to live and flourish as we start this new cycle of experiencing the goodness of our God.