It is cold – worryingly cold. The human body is a wonderful thing, and resilient but it cannot cope with prolonged cold, nor for that matter too much heat, and the young and the older are still more vulnerable. We know it gets cold in winter, and we know that every winter some struggle with heating, but I suspect this winter the cost of heating means all of us are worrying in a way that most of us have not done previously, and the recent cold spell has brought home to us how used we have become to heating.
We know too that in Ukraine, Russia is deliberately destroying the power and utility structures so ordinary people will have a truly dark and cold winter. It is a form of total war in which every person is considered the enemy. As we add extra layers, rub our hands, think which room is best to keep warmer, we remember those with fewer options and more extreme temperatures.
It may seem bizarre or darkly ironic that with all the focus on global warming, it is the cold that is the current challenge. How we would like an extra 10 degrees or more of warmth in the air! And if it was warmer we would not need to burn fuels! We know however that the over-heating of the atmosphere, the impact of industrialisation, a population that wants to be mobile (cars and planes galore) and huge farming projects especially for increased meat consumption (methane), along with the destruction of forests, is causing not just greater heat but more extreme weather more often. Global Warming may seem a nice phrase for us in winter, Climate Change may seem a fairly soft expression, but both are about the disordering of the “natural” rhythms, moving the dial away from “normal”. It is not wise to ignore the rhythms which the Creator has ordered!
Advent is that season of preparation – it used to be a penitential season and a season of abstinence, equivalent to Lent, but we find abstinence unfashionable these days. Even our Advent Calendars offer chocolate every day! Advent is a season of in-between, in between the first promises of God and the culmination of the promises of God. Advent is an ambivalent time, rightly, when we rejoice for what is to come but reflect with penitence and concern – when we remember God, present on earth modelling a loving but “powerless” life of concern. In earthly terms it did not end well for John the Baptist, or for Jesus or for many of the first Christians. It is a season when we acknowledge this is the real world which God has given us, and when we think of the promised new world that will transcend this one. Advent calls us to be alert, awake, working, but also stepping back, having a changed perspective, praying. Ultimately Advent calls us to be fully alive to the present, and fully anchored in the promised future.
This Advent is challenging, just as this winter is going to be a real challenge; Will it bring out in us a desire to help, to support our community, both the immediate local community and the needier areas that bit further away? Thank you to all who have given to the Children’s Society, to all who fill the Grub Tubs for Urban Outreach, for those who have given toys to the Lions or Fortalice; these are important gifts which will make a difference for good; keeping an eye out for neighbours, sharing hot food with them, these are also important gifts for good. Back in the day when central heating was a log-fire in the hearth, our ancestors also knew it was important to gather and feast; it was about togetherness and lifting the human spirit, and being filled with good things. So we plan too for our celebrations and feasting, to encourage each other, to lift spirits and to be thankful for good things. Advent is also a time of preparation for that, as we wait for the great Feast, the great Banquet, the fulfilment of all good things. And so Advent carries this ambivalence, this double strand which is not easy to hold together.