“I want, I want, I don’t know what I want.” I believe that these words come from a play, ‘The Insect’ by the Capeks. They somehow reflect a lot of what people feel today, writes Rev Sydney Maitland.
We resent the salaries and bonuses paid to bankers but we still want our savings to be kept safe and for our payments to be made and honoured. We may resent the petty-mindedness of some forms of officialdom (yes, I write as a retired town planner) but we still want order in all aspects of life and in our streets. We may despise the posturing and platitudes of politicians but we expect national decisions to be made rationally, openly and honestly, and even in dictatorships there are politicians – even if they are not particularly responsive to the public mood (except among their own supporters and party machines).
This sense of dissatisfaction with life and disillusionment with the structures of our own society is widespread and is easily fed by conspiracy theories. Yet it takes place in a society that supports and is supported by an extensive welfare state, mass entertainment and a relative freedom of expression and assembly. It does not face warfare of the aftermath of military defeat, a debased currency or mass unemployment, let alone all of them.
Just as Jesus spoke of the people of Sodom rising up against the city of Capernaum because of their unbelief, (Matthew 11: 23-24) so perhaps the people of Germany of the 1920s and 1930s might also criticize our own lack of fortitude and the ease with which we seem to fall for conspiracy theories. Indeed, we know very well where such mass suspicions and mass resentments can and do lead.
What may be new in our time is that these feelings of alienation are being generated from both the right and left wings of our political culture. They may be directed at different targets but the effect is to undermine almost all aspects of national, civic and family life.
But Advent is a period of anticipation – looking forward not so much to Christmas as to the personal return to the world of Jesus. Even though we are instructed to read the signs of the times we are not encouraged to speculate on dates and times. We are instructed to continue in our own duties and responsibilities and it would be far better if, on His return, Jesus were to find us going about His business rather than amusing ourselves with pointless speculations and resentments.
We may be watchful but do not need to give way to our fears. We may be quiet but do not have to be supine. We may be attentive to one another without having to press on one another. We may be diligent but do not have to be frantic. There is that sense in which “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30: 15)
In John 15, Jesus speaks of abiding in Him. Abiding – resting, trusting, finding our sense of being and of activity, being centred on Him. Again there is nothing passive about this which is enlivened by the presence and movement of the Holy Spirit. It certainly means pondering and reflecting.
As we approach Christmas it is worth noting that the celebration of Jesus’ birth was to be followed in His life by decades of growing, learning, increasing in wisdom and strength, in favour with people and with God – that is maturing both socially and spiritually. Just what the New Year will bring remains to be seen although we all will have our own ideas about it. But Jesus also was born into a Roman-occupied society and spent the first few years of His life as a refugee in exile. On His return to Israel it was to a part that was far from the studied centre of worship and prayer in Jerusalem and much closer to the attitudes, deities and trading practices of the nations surrounding Galilee. Not ideal country for developing a religious revival – but a great place to find His disciples.
Every blessing as we all seek to deepen our own discipleship in a time of uncertainty.