In may ways this present time could be described as “an age of fear and uncertainty.” Political leaders that do not inspire confidence, international tension, economic uncertainty and impact of climate change.
If you are looking for Christmas present inspiration and an antidote then I can recommend a series that is called “All or Nothing,” which tells the behind the scenes story of Manchester City’s winning the premier league.
At the heart of it is the personality of the manager, Pep Guardiola and in particular his inspirational talks to the team at half time. In one he tells them that he will defend them to the death before the press, but in the dressing room he will tell them the truth. He describes how in a particular game he did not see the desire or the intensity that he demands every game.
“Every single training session, every single game, you have to be there ready. I know that you are talented players, but to become a top, top team you have to learn to play football with courage.”
Maybe the same lessons apply to life. As there are times that you need to have courage and deal with fear.
There are many things that can result in fear and we are living in uncertain times with a variety of predictions on what is going to happen over the next five or so years.
As it is Advent Sunday the reading from St Luke today is an example of apocalyptic writing. It is sometimes interpreted to be a glimpse of the future and apocalyptic means an unveiling or a revealing.
There is a list of various things, signs in the sky, climatic upheaval and “people will faint with from fear and foreboding at what is coming into the world.”
These words from the Gospel would have been addressed to small Christian churches that were facing persecution.
Yet, rather than being overcome by fear they needed to dig in and stand firm.
It is not so much the confusion in the world that will scatter the church, but giving into fear that will do the real damage.
If fear takes hold you can start to think what is the point of having a faith, does any of this really matter and does it make any difference.
It would be easy to give up your faith or compromise what is important to you, but there is an encouragement to have courage and live with integrity.
On this baptism day for Harry maybe the key thing to take from this Advent is the importance of courage.
It has always been seen as a virtue and in philosophy the Ancient Greeks saw it as the power of the mind to overcome fear.
They seemed to recognise that we can be overcome by our own imaginations. We can make something far worse in our thoughts than it will be in reality.
Courage becomes the ability to face life’s challenges and not be overwhelmed, it faces fear and refuses to be mastered by it.
We can be afraid of many things: we might be afraid of failure, being made to look inferior or not taken seriously.
So many negative things that we can experience in life are rooted in fear, and so many opportunities can be lost because we are afraid.
In the Christian tradition there has always been more to this than living with an inner resolve to keep going forward not matter what.
The New Testament speaks about fear being overcome by love.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” I John 4. 18
Love in this sense is not soft or sentimental. It is the type of love that is moving Jesus towards Jerusalem and the cross. It is the love that keeps St Paul going on despite numerous persecutions. It is the strength not to meet evil with evil, but evil with love.
There is a realism in that.
It is easy to think that the world is essentially benign and most people are decent and good. I think most likely most are, but there is a recognition that there are forces and powers in the world that cause harm and pain. There are constant reminders of the damage that is done by damaged individuals and also by groups, societies and countries. The Christian message is that these feelings of hatred, bitterness and jealousy can never be overcome by more of the same. Only love can deal with fear and it is love that gives us courage. Courage is the quality that enables us to stand up to fear and not be dismayed by whatever we face.
When the first Christians would have heard or read Jesus’ words, they knew first-hand the reality of living out your faith in a hostile world.
Part of the Advent is a reminder that they are not alone even if it seems that God has left and turned off the lights.
The candles that we light Sunday by Sunday are a way of reminding us that the “light shines in the darkness.”
There is the encouragement that every person has a value and dignity that can never be lost.
We are not to be weighed down by fear but live by faith, hope and love.
So for Harry and all of us here the message of Advent can resonate and remind us that we have to live with courage.