Advent is a time not only to prepare for Christmas to also to consider and prepare for the Second Coming of Christ and today’s readings give us plenty of scope to do just that. Isaiah offers a prophetic vision of what the world will be like when God is sovereign, St Paul announces that salvation is drawing ever nearer whilst Matthew’s Gospel speaks of the coming of the Son of Man. For some the idea of the second coming lets them off the hook regarding environmental ethics. If Heaven and Earth will be renewed at Christ’s return then what is the point of safeguarding creation?
However, if we see Christ’s resurrection as the first fruits of a new order which will come to fulfilment after the Parousia, it becomes apparent that wounds inflicted in time have an eternal impact. Just as the wounds of Jesus passion remain in his resurrection body, so the wounds inflicted on the earth through human activity will remain when the earth is redeemed. For many in our world it seems as if the end of the world of the world has already begun as the effects of climate change deliver disasters of apocalyptic proportions. Modern day prophets predict that the end is nigh for the world’s capacity to sustain human beings, at least if we do not act quickly.
St Paul tells the Roman Christians that anticipating Christ’s return should spur them to action declaring “now is the time to wake out of sleep”. We could do worse than to hear his words as an encouragement to awake from our complacency about climate change and take urgent action, for if we don’t we may find ourselves faced with end times of our own making that are the very antithesis of Isaiah’s peace-filled vision.
2nd Sunday in Advent Isaiah 11:1-10 Psalm 72 1-7,18-19 Romans 15:4-13 Matthew 3:1-12
Isaiah’s vision is of a world at ease with itself, where even the violence inherent in the food chain is eliminated as the wolf and lamb lie down together, is a rich seam to be mined in this week's readings. However the Gospel message as proclaimed by John the Baptist “Repent!" which is most difficult to ignore when considering the environmental crisis we face.
Repentance is not all about sackcloth and ashes and bewailing the past, rather it is about changing our minds, re-ordering priorities, changing attitudes, aligning our wills with God’s and committing to live differently. There is significant scope for changing attitudes about creation. It has been persuasively argued that a Christian theology grounded in Genesis 1, with an over-emphasis on dominating and subjugating nature is in part responsible for the problems we now face. We have behaved as if the finite resources of the world were infinite and ours for the taking. Insufficient emphasis has been given ideas of stewarding the earth’s resources, of holding the world as trustees for future generations, and of being responsible for the creation rather than masters of it.
These attitudes have and continue to fuel devastating and sometimes irreversible damage to the earth. However, Christianity is a religion of hope and the image of a branch springing from the root of Jesse points to this. The stump which seemed dead still contains the potential for life - the Jewish people Isaiah addresses were exiled but a remnant would return home - the situation seemed to be hopeless but God was at work. John the Baptist’s message is not grounded in guilt for past wrongs but in hope that God’s kingdom is close. Whilst there is clearly a role for the Church in calling for a change in attitudes towards that environment, is there also a role in casting a positive vision of what a sustainable future might look like?