The Second Sunday of Advent

So much to do, so little time. Or maybe I’m just getting old(er)! We’re into our new church year and people are already planning most of 2016 in the world. Among Lutherans world-wide there’s a prel-ude – a bit of a drum roll – to 2017 and the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses. This is being noticed by other denominations though I detect that people are not sure whether to cele-brate, commemorate, remember, or just acknowledge the historical moment. The ELCE will be active at the 2016 Christian Resources Exhibitions in London (at ExCel 17th – 20th May) drawing attention to Lutherans then, now and into the future.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Na-tions has named 2016 ‘The International Year of Pulses’. Pulses – I had to look it up – are annual leguminous crops yielding between one and 12 grains or seeds of variable size, shape and colour within a pod, used for both food and feed (eg. lentils, peas, beans, and chickpeas).

The International Council for Science, the International Social Science Council, and the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences have made 2016 the ‘International Year of Global Understanding’ (IYGU). The aim of IYGU is to promote better understanding of how the local impacts the global in order to foster smart policies to tackle critical global challenges such as climate change, food security and migration. (That’s from the website.)
2016 continues International Map Year (begun in August 2015) which aims to highlight the impor-tance and use of maps and mapping whether one is a school child or an adlut concerned about geographic infrastructures and sustainable development.

Pope Francis announced earlier this year that 2016 (beginning Tuesday 8th December) would be an ‘Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy’ and in this holy year of mercy there are calls for acts of mercy, pilgrimages (the language of indulgence is used which certainly tweaks Lutheran ears), renewal of the faith, and a great seeking of reconciliation with God through his forgiveness.

The ELCE is not silent here. While we haven’t said ‘international year’ or anything, we have a theme from our annual synodical conference – the second in a trilogy – which is about how we do theology and practise it, live it. The Latin is oratio (prayer) was the focus in 2015, now is meditatio (meditation) for 2016, and for 2017 it will be tentatio (testing or trials). This phrase is from Martin Luther and a ‘right way to study theology’ not just for clergy but for everyone.

There are good things in all of these emphases with which we could spend time! I haven’t even begun to mention the personal milestones 2016 might bring – special birthdays, anniversaries, and events – that might enhance or transform us. Of course we have to get through the day’s events too and our weeks continue to fill – who doesn’t feel busy?!

The calls of international years and popes and synodical conventions are all meant to raise our heads above the minutiae of grinding daily living to give us a ‘bigger picture’ and to inspire us that life – and our personal lives – are more than just a meaningless struggle between birth and death.  Such calls for action testify to both a paucity and richness in the tapestry of life – that left to our-selves humanity does seem to wreck things and we need to turn from past practices – even this world acknowledges that if we worked together, things could be so much better!

Of course I don’t know the future – and my best plans for it can come unstuck very quickly – but in the presence of the crucified and risen man who guides people through repentance and joy we can find our identity (in him) and then looking around at our surroundings seek to speak and live truth in service of others. In this dying to self is life no matter the year!  — GS