This November saw the gathering of world leaders and their representatives at the COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow. The language that is being used is quite scary – amplified by the events of this year in fire and flood and weather, the tragic in the loss of life, homes, livelihoods and acres of woodland.
The fact that this is being talked about at this time, chimes with the Church’s year; November and early December focus on questions of judgement. God’s judgement is not to condemn and punish, it is to restore and put right; it is not about a wasteland, but a new creation. It is interesting that the word ‘apocalypse’ in modern use tends to mean world ending destruction; but in the bible, it means a revelation of great knowledge. Advent, judgement, apocalyptic are a wake up call: we are reminded that there are consequences to our actions, of our mortality, that we need to wake up to the need for change. Advent is also about good news and hope. Again, while hope in today’s use can be something like a wish, the word ‘hope’ for Christians still holds it’s bible root – it means confidence and expectation.
At the heart of both the climate debate and Christianity is a question of truth. Pontius Pilate is the unlikely voice of the people when he asks Jesus, “What is truth?” How do I know what the truth is? Who’s truth, in the many voices? How do I work out what to do? But Jesus stands before him in silence – only Jesus’ actions will speak.
There is no categoric proof; there is no such thing as a riskless decision – even doing nothing is risky. In the tragic events of 2004, Tilly Smith, aged ten, recognised the signs of a tsunami - the sea disappeared from the shoreline, there were frothing bubbles on the surface - she warned her parents, who warned those around them, and the hotel cleared the beach. It was one of the few beaches with no reported casualties that day. It could so easily have been another tragedy.
The danger of both the language of Climate Crisis and of the language of Judgement is that it either seems so unreal that we ignore it; or so scary that we refuse to engage with it. However, neither are counsels of despair: they are words of warning to help us take life seriously and to make the kind of changes that are necessary to live life well. Neither are they counsels of misery – life lived responsibly and generously, enables us and others to enjoy the fullness of life that is God’s intent.
Through November and December, we will be exploring our reasons for confidence, questions of truth, and how we can make a difference. Advent is a wake up call to the big picture, making life changes that are just and life-giving, living in and with creation in ways that are wholesome and holy, living in the world in ways that recognise our shared responsibility for the world that we had on to our children and grandchildren.