Merciful judgement

Few who heard the Rector’s sermon on Advent Sunday, would not have agreed that the commercial circus we witness at this time of the year severely weakens the Christian message of Advent. Those seeking to follow the traditional Christian pilgrimage of faith have to be determined if they are not to be swamped by the emptiness of the Christmas hype.

The traditional themes for Advent are heaven and hell, death and judgement; all very serious stuff which underlines Advent as a period of penitence and preparation.What are we to do, as Christians, in an uncomprehending world that, sometimes in hostility, does not want to hear? We could become puritans, and in the pursuit of our own isolated quest for perfection, remove ourselves from the world outside.

But this would not do. If our model is Our Lord Jesus Christ we must engage with the world. He moved amongst everyone, meeting them wherever they were, and by so doing he both impressed and scandalised.

This coming Tuesday is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the beginning of the ‘Year of Mercy’ proclaimed by Pope Francis. By clicking this link you will find a Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Richborough and in church you can pick up a prayer card for use each day throughout the coming year. The Year of Mercy is a Papal initiative and Bishop Norman’s letter commends it and encourages the congregations in his care to engage with it seriously.

Judgement is one of the Advent themes. God is the ultimate judge of us all and no-one else should judge us. At some moment it will be our turn to meet God and be judged, and we contemplate that moment with a confused mixture of excited anticipation and deep dread.

However, we do not ask God to be just. Justice would condemn all of us. What we ask is mercy and with mercy comes forgiveness. God looks at his child and sees someone who is guilty. But if that child is sorry and regretful, in mercy he commutes sentence and embraces them as a father embraces his wayward offspring.

The gospels tell us that Our Lord Jesus Christ is consistently merciful. Whether it be the woman taken in adultery, the penitent thief or any of many others: he helps them go forward - transformed.If we are his followers and copy his example, we too must not judge, but rather understand and in mercy help people to begin afresh, and in so doing, begin afresh ourselves.

In one way, being merciful is what Christians, as followers of their Lord, do all the time. It is not just for one year because there is a Year of Mercy, but we need such initiatives to remind us, who are simple wayward human beings, of what and how we should be – reminding us and recalling us to the basic task.

John the Baptist is unavoidable in Advent. He does not seem to go to people as his cousin Jesus does; he seems to have a charisma that makes them want to go to him. He is clear: the bling and emptiness of the court is not the place to find God who is found in a private internal place. It is by seriously throwing out the rubbish in our lives, often attractive and desirable rubbish, that we can find this place.

Of course we need to engage with the world. Even rulers have souls that need saving and are deserving of mercy. But we must never be coerced into the empty world of power, glitz and glamour, for it is empty. As Christians we walk the tightrope of engagement and detachment at the same time. Not in some superior way, but just as a means of preserving our own spiritual life. It is of course, one of the many dilemmas with which we live if we follow Christ.