From Advent to Epiphany: the nature of hope, and hope for nature

Happy New Year!? What will 2013 hold? If forecasts are correct, then we’ll see more hurricanes, droughts, floods, crop failures, wildlife extinctions, urban drift, and desperate people attempting to escape poverty. Not to mention global economic gloom. With resource depletion hitting home, perhaps the scarcest commodity of all is hope. What hope can Christians have for the future of the earth, or of our own species? Will God wave a magic wand and make everything good again, or will we be whisked away from a dying planet to an otherworldly paradise?

“First advent” by rosipaw

I want to suggest that the biblical roots of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany offer us clues to the nature of our hope, and of our hope for nature. Advent offers us three dimensions of hope in the past, present and future coming of Christ. Christmas is about hope incarnate, fleshed out in the real world in Jesus. Epiphany remembers the gifts offered to the infant Christ and what they symbolise, but it means more: an Epiphany is God’s self-revelation, a vision of who God really is – hope from another dimension breaking in. Let’s explore these further:

  • Hope rooted in the past: the first Advent is God’s ‘Yes!’ to material creation in sending Jesus to be born, to live, die and rise again. When the angels spoke ‘Peace on earth’ to shepherds outside Bethlehem those words didn’t convey the nostalgia of sleigh bells and yuletide logs. When first-century shepherds protecting flocks from predators heard ‘Peace on earth’, they would have thought of Isaiah’s promises of God’s peaceful kingdom: lions lying down with lambs; ‘shalom’ throughout the created order. The baby of Bethlehem spoke hope for the reconciliation and renewal of all creation.
  • Hope for the future: ‘O come, O come, Immanuel’ is a cry of hopeful longing for Christ’s promised return as judge and saviour. God’s promises offer a future and a hope for this material earth and its creatures. Not only every human, but every creature in heaven and on earth will acknowledge Christ as Lord. However there is an important rider to this promise. Future hope doesn’t preclude disaster now. Biblical hope is often about restoration for a remnant following the devastation of war, famine or exile. The certainty of Jesus’ victorious return does not give us immunity from the self-inflicted ecological apocalypse that scientists are predicting.
  • So, what of hope for today? Our hope today is also of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Christ comes, by his Spirit, into the earth’s abandoned and polluted places. Christ is born anew amidst the chaos, not miraculously rescuing us out of it, but enabling us to remain faithful and persevere. And as we respond to God’s gift by offering our gifts and ourselves to God, we may experience an Epiphany – a vision of God’s future breaking into the present, a glimpse of the healing of the land, a sign of God’s coming Kingdom, with broken places restored, creatures reconciled, and people rediscovering God’s image.
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About Dave Bookless

Dave has worked with A Rocha since 1997, first as an International Trustee, then from 2001 with A Rocha UK as co-founder (with his wife Anne), National Director, and then Director for Theology, Churches & Sustainable Communities. He joined the A Rocha International team in September 2011. His role as Advisor for Theology and Churches includes providing advice and resources for ARI’s Trustees, Team and national A Rocha organisations, and coordinating liaison with international theological and mission networks and organisations. He is also studying for a part-time PhD at Cambridge University on biblical theology and biodiversity conservation. Dave’s passion is communicating biblical teaching to today’s cultures, and he has spoken in many countries to conferences, colleges and churches. He has contributed to many books and has authored two: Planetwise – Dare to Care for God’s World (IVP, 2008) and God Doesn’t do Waste (IVP, 2010), selected by Third Way magazine as one of its books of the year for 2010. Dave was born and grew up in India, and has a love for Indian food, Indian culture and Indian Christianity. He, his wife Anne, and their four daughters live in multi-cultural Southall, London, where Dave (an ordained Anglican minister) shares in the leadership of a multi-racial church and where as a family they try to live as sustainably as possible. Dave is also a qualified bird-ringer and loves birding, islands and mountains.

4 thoughts on “From Advent to Epiphany: the nature of hope, and hope for nature

  1. Dear Dave,
    what a beautiful and Spirit inspired message ! Thank you for having written this.

    I really like this phrase : Christ is born anew amidst the chaos, not miraculously rescuing us out of it, but enabling us to remain faithful and persevere.

    It allows us to turn our hearts toward our Lord who gives us hope and comfort in tasks we face each day and our work with A Rocha.

    A blessed and fruitful year to you and your family dear Dave !

    Warm regards, Bertrand

  2. As long as I know about people who really really care about nature and responsibility for following generations and the disadvantaged 2/3 of this world I keep on going encouraged. this is my only hope: That God enables people like you to talk the inconvenient truth against the mighty ones in this world who keep on living their lies, exploiting God’s creation only to make money, money, money. It’s disgusting to watch those people, it’s encouraging to know about A Rocha. Thank you so much.

  3. Dave, thanks for this reminder that Advent, Christmas and Epiphany are in a sense never-ending, carrying on God’s outworking of hope, which grows even in the face of any of our present challenges.

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