Toorak Uniting Church

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In Today’s World are we Hopeful or Helpless?

Luke 1:46b-55
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
Advent 4
21 December 2014

The proliferation of 24x7 news coverage; mobile phones; texting; the internet and the use of social media have made us the most informed group of people of all time. The speed and volume of information is at times enlightening and interesting, while also bringing a sense of bewilderment and of being overpowered by forces beyond myself. But for me this rush of instant information is mostly disempowering – what can I do about a lone gunman holding hostages in a Sydney café, or the slaughter of school children in Pakistan? Only to mention a few of the atrocities that have occurred in the last few days. Am I helpless – are we helpless?

I am reminded of the TS Eliot quote from his poem the Rock:

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

Those are words that could only be written and spoken in the 20th and the 21st centuries. The quest for information seems to have eclipsed the search for wisdom. Information is greedy for more facts and figures, more images and pictures; while wisdom seeks depth and insight and a willingness to live into the mystery of life. TS Eliot ends his poem on a sobering, even fatalistic note:

The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change,
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.

The Debilitating force of Helplessness:
A sense of helplessness is usually accompanied by a deficit of hope – the feeling that one has little power in one’s life and over one’s situation. Strangely, our media seems to dwell on our helplessness rather than hopefulness. This perhaps fits the old adage "misery loves company," and that despondency is woven into the human condition.

Hope, on the other hand, may need to be nurtured in us. And perhaps one of the most important places we need hope is in the sense that our world can move to a place of nonviolence and a world of Peace!! We make it the centrepiece of our Christmas celebrations each year and yet the cynic in me sees little change in our desire for peace and goodwill toward all.

But there remains that grain of hope that peace will one day rule the world. Things do change and even with TS Eliot’s prediction that there will always be "the perpetual struggle of Good and Evil", I believe that good can in the end win.

Our reading from Luke this morning is meant to keep hope alive in the midst of helplessness:

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

Have we seen this happen in our world today? Well no, not in full. But there have been glimpses of "Peace breaking out". Tyrants have fallen and the hungry have been fed; but still only in part.

The Pathway to Peace
One part of this story that is important is the emphasis on the lowly. Luke’s and Matthew’s stories both see Mary as one without status. She is young and vulnerable. The Christian message, as preachers are fond of reminding us, began not just in humble beginnings but in rented accommodation after a long and tiring journey. And in this story it begins with one person: Mary.

So if there is a pathway to peace it begins with humility and it begins with one person: me!! – us. When we nurture inner peace within ourselves it has an effect on those around us. It creates a harmony so we do not see ourselves as helpless. Of course this is just the beginning of inner work or contemplation if it leads to action.

Peace and hope are nurtured and nourished in communities. We are a community that meets regularly and demonstrates the power of hopefulness. We show it in the way we treat others, those around us. We are a welcoming community (well, we can always do better), but that Christian practice of welcome and invitation to all people is a step on the pathway to peace. When we welcome those of different racial or ethnic backgrounds; when we welcome those who are gay or Lesbian and when we welcome those of other religions, we are walking the pathway of peace and diminishing our helplessness and cultivating our hopefulness.

Just as evil flourishes when good people do nothing, so too does peace diminish when we allow our cynicism to believe there is nothing we can do. Mary’s words are written as an encouragement that the small and the lowly have an important place in the grand scheme of life. Her reaction to this peculiar event was hope and expectation:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

It is from this embracing of life that change will begin. I have on my desk and in the front of my journal a quote from the Dalai Lama. It reads:

"Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can."

Will that bring about world peace? Who knows! But I do know that it makes me conscious of the pathway I am on, working toward peace. And that I feel a little less helpless and more hopeful in my daily life.

© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2014

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