Title: WBB: Advent, Assurance and Anguish
Location: Wycliffe College Chapel@7.22am
WBB: Assurance, Anguish and Advent
“Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ,” the apostle powerfully proclaimed last week. But if you keep reading you see that he then immediately gives voice to a deep sorrow and anguish. So deep that he says that he wishes that he himself could be cut off, that he himself could be separated from the love of Christ.
From assurance to anguish. Why? Because Paul is so deeply grieved by the rejection of Messiah Jesus by his own kin. This is, after all, Israel’s story, Israel’s covenant, Israel’s promise, Israel’s Messiah. And yet so many in Israel fail to respond faithfully to this Messiah. And Paul’s sorrow is so deep that he wishes that the impossible would happen – that he would be cut off so that his sisters and brothers in Israel would enter in.
What’s this got to do with Advent? Is this struggle that we meet in Romans 9 just imposed on us in the second week of Advent because that’s where we have got to in our reading of Paul’s letter? Or might this indeed be an Advent struggle? Might it be that we meet in Romans 9 not only the retelling of Israel’s story that the coming of Jesus makes necessary, but that we also meet the tension between assurance and anguish that is a the heart of Advent longing?
Christians enter into Advent knowing where it is all going to lead. We enter into a time of singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” knowing that Emmanuel has indeed come and we will also be able to sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Advent is rooted in an event that has happened. Herein is assurance.
And yet, we are still waiting. And if that waiting is to grasp the intensity of what is at stake, it will be a waiting suffused with anguish.
U2 put it this way in “Peace on Earth”:
Jesus in this song you wrote
The words are sticking in my throat
Peace on Earth
Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth
This peace on earth
Hope and history still won’t rhyme. No wonder the happy language of “peace on earth” sticks in the throat:
as President Obama announces a military “surge” in Afghanistan,
as suicide bombers wreck havoc in Pakistan,
as the refugee camps around the world are full,
as the lines at the food banks get longer,
and as hope and history continue to be in conflict in our own lives.
Advent and anguish. Advent actually makes the anguish all the more pronounced. Set in contrast with the assurance of the story of the coming of the Son of Man born of a teenage refugee in a stable, heralded by angels, peasants and foreign dignitaries alike, come to set Israel free from captivity … the realities of continued enmity, idolatry, brokenness and sin can only give rise to such anguish.
But Paul’s anguish is very specific. Emmanuel has come to bring an end to the captivity of Israel, yet Israel remains in exile.
Emmanuel has come to set us free. Emmanuel is yet to come. Our freedom is not yet complete. O come, O come Emmanuel.
Next year in Jerusalem?
Advent, assurance and anguish. All at 7.22am on a Tuesday morning.
This week Melissa Graham Burke will be preaching, David Shulman has written the prayers, Deb Whelan is guest leading the band while Rob is away for the day, and our ever-beloved Judith Alltree will be serving the bread and the wine.
And, even in the midst of the tension between assurance and anguish we will celebrate the coming of the One who was promised. And what is a celebration without good food? So this week, feel free to bring some celebratory Advent food to add to the breakfast table.
I hope to see you tomorrow. Bring your friends.
In Advent hope,