Although the weight of the world has been “a heavy one to bear” in 2017, Archbishop Fred Hiltz said, as a Christian, he believes that “God is speaking into our weariness, wariness and worry of the world—if we have ears to hear and hearts to obey.”
In a sermon delivered at Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, on the first Sunday of Advent, December 3, Hiltz said that people may question where God is in the midst of multiple disasters, wars, terror attacks, climate change, escalating fears about the prospect of a nuclear holocaust, the ongoing refugee crisis and many other turmoils in the world today.
“As in ages past, some say, ‘Where now is your God?’ Others wonder if God is so appalled with the behaviour of human beings as to become silent, leaving us to our own devices and destroying one another and the Earth itself,” he said. “Others will say, ‘Will God speak? And if so, through whom and how?’ ”
Hiltz pointed to the Scriptures, which are “the living word of God,” and Jesus, who is “the incarnate word of God made flesh, dwelling among us.”
He noted how, during the first Sunday of Advent, God was speaking through the day’s readings from the prophet Isaiah (64:1–9), his son Jesus (Mark 14:34) and his apostle Paul (1 Corinthians:3-9).
“Each speaks into the mood of the world and into the mystery of this holy season of anticipation, expectation and holiness,” said Hiltz. “Isaiah speaks of weeping and praying. Jesus speaks of working and watching. Paul speaks of waiting and welcoming.”
In the Old Testament reading, said Hiltz, “Isaiah speaks of the people’s lament of what has become of their heritage and hope…They have been in sin for a long time and wonder if they can be saved.”
Yet in the midst of their lament, said Hiltz, “they remember that from of old, no ear has heard or eye has seen a God besides their God who works for those who wait for him and who meets those who joyfully remember his ways and work for his righteousness on the Earth.” This memory alone left people heartened, he added.
Isaiah also brings the image of God as the potter and the people as the clay, said Hiltz.
“Pray with me that day by day through Advent, we might allow ourselves to be taken hold of by God that he might make of us what he wills: vessels of grace, instruments of his peace, lamps through whom his light shines into the darkness of the world, communities whose way of living shows people Jesus.”
Advent, said Hiltz, is the opportunity for the faithful to “consider our life and labours as followers of Jesus, as individuals and as communities of faith.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has spoken candidly about how he “must be careful that he not become a professional Christian—good at ceremony and speech, ritual and writing, but lacking in heart and soul,” said Hiltz. “Justin desires to be a confessing Christian, acknowledging the lordship of Jesus in every aspect of his living.”
He also noted Pope Francis’s exhortation that “the church must always be open to a constant self-renewal born of an increase of fidelity to Jesus Christ.” The Pope’s call for a “New Evangelization” is one that resonates with all churches, said Hiltz.
Former Bishop of Oxford John Pritchard’s view that “the most effective form of evangelism is a community of faith living out the gospel so fully and attractively that people are drawn into its orbit and so discover Christ,” is one that resonates with him, said Hiltz. It shows, he added, “a community engaged with the world.”
Responding to persistent questions and criticisms about the church’s involvement in public life, Hiltz also quoted Pritchard as having said, “On what grounds could Christians not be?”
Hiltz added, “Insofar as we are engaged in our communities, contributing to their safety and welfare; insofar as we are committed to reconciliation in the hope of lasting peace among the nations, we are living the fullness of the gospel. We are ‘showing people Jesus.’”
Earlier in his sermon, Hiltz spoke about Canterbury Cathedral’s mission: “To show people Jesus.” It is a mission that is “absolutely compelling in its simplicity,” he said. “To show people Jesus not by thrusting him upon them, but by conversing and acting in such ways as draw them to him.” It is a mission that the faithful ought to consider during the holy season of Advent, he said.
Hiltz also spoke about his “deep affection” for the cathedral, noting how he has visited it many times as a bishop and later, as primate. He preached at the cathedral during his visit to the U.K. last week.
“I cherish the vast spaces of this cathedral that afford one the opportunity to contemplate the greatness and the transcendence of the Almighty, and those smaller spaces where one can lean into some cavern in a wall and experience the very near presence and intimacy of the Almighty,” he said. “I appreciate the 1,400-year-old rhythm of prayer that shapes every day in this place. At the rising of the sun and at its setting, life is lifted heavenward—the life of the world, and the life of the church, the life of those gathered and the life of all for whom they pray.”
Canterbury Cathedral is the mother church of the Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Its origins date back to 597 AD “when Augustine, sent by Pope Gregory the Great, arrived on the coat of Kent as a missionary,” according to the cathedral website.