Christians in Exile

Christians in Exile

Second Sunday of Advent. Fr Anthony Axe preaches on this time of preparation for Christmas.

We are exiles, alienated from our true home in God’s heavenly kingdom. If we’re immersed in the message of the gospel, we should be sensitive to a feeling of alienation from the attitudes that prevail in the majority of people and governments.

We should feel uncomfortable when we hear of food mountains alongside starvation. Uncomfortable with the incongruity of shops decked out with expensive gewgaws no one could possibly need, when people sleep rough without the bare necessities of life. We ought to feel awkward when we join the crush of Christmas shoppers when there is no such crush to get into church before Christmas.

All such things should make us feel out of place in the world. Something is obviously wrong – we creatures of earth feel uncomfortable here. Jesus prays:

I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world. I do not pray that thou shouldst take then out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (John 17:14)

We are in the world but not of it, because Jesus has given us God’s word of justice, peace, truth and freedom.

The people of Israel had been in exile. Their country had been overthrown by the Babylonians and the important people deported to an alien land. But such is human adaptability that the next generation was born into exile and had their friends among the alien people. They were, to all intents and purposes, just as indigenous as that land’s original inhabitants.

Yet they felt uncomfortable – they were God’s chosen people, yet they were living among pagans, with pagan temples and gods all around. Not the pagan temples of high street stores, but the temples of Astarte, Shamash and Marduk. Different names but standing for the same thing. The exiles couldn’t fight for their own ideals because they weren’t in their own country. Beginning to sound familiar?

Baruch calls on Jerusalem to remove her dress of sorrow and distress and put on the beauty of God’s glory. Jerusalem will see the return of her children.

Their alienation is to end because God will return them home, where they can set up a way of life according to God’s commands, where they can feel fully at home because their lives will conform to their beliefs.

The people did go back but the system they set up still had privilege and oppression, wealth alongside poverty. But then along came Jesus, God living among his people on earth, showing us how we must behave if we are to bring about his kingdom, the reign of justice and peace on earth. We are to do, say and think as Jesus did.

And what will this get us? Will it bring in the kingdom at one fell swoop? Of course it won’t. It brought Jesus abandonment by his friends and death at the hands of his enemies. Is this the kingdom that God promises? Well, yes, in a way, it is.

According to St Paul, we can prepare for Jesus’ return to earth by increasing our love for one another, with knowledge and discernment, filled with the fruits of righteousness.

Jesus promised that when we help anyone in his name, we are helping him. We take up our cross and follow him, doing what he did, making him present on earth once again, losing our lives to gain them.

We pray now for Jesus’ return in glory, the glory of justice, peace and love. The coming of Jesus into our lives can be whenever we want it to be. We only have to invite it by acting in love. Advent is a good time to concentrate on this, when we prepare ourselves to remember his coming in Bethlehem and pray that he will return soon.

Those who recognised their need for repentance and help received it from Jesus. If we recognise our need and ask God for it, we too will be given help to live according to the Gospel. Then, a time of justice and peace will become a reality, and we shall be aliens no longer.

Readings: Bar 5:1-9 | Phil 1:3-6,8-11 | Luke 3:1-6