I was filling my car with diesel the other day and while I was waiting in the queue to pay an elderly gentleman in front of me was giving considerable verbal abuse to the proprietor because the air compressor for pumping tyres was broken. To hear the abuse being given I would have assumed that this was a matter of life and death! He was a loyal customer he said who had given the garage much custom over the years and he declared that he would never be back if they could not even provide a decent basic service. With that he stormed out leaving a deathly silence behind him. Trying to lighten the mood I commented to the proprietor that the man had obviously got out of bed on the wrong side. She told me that it was nothing unusual – something that happens every day! People she said are getting more and more angry and impatient – and not just young people either. Talking to my wife who also works in the retail industry I hear similar stories of an increasing level of aggression and hostility that she and her staff face in dealing with the general public on a daily basis. Why is this? Why are we so angry? Why are so many people only one step away from boiling over?
I wonder is it partly the consequence of modern culture which has so emphasised the importance of the individual. Modern Gurus and New Age spiritualities tell us that we as individuals can do all things - that the world revolves around us - that the answer to all our problems lies within us. This is all very well when things are going well but what about when things start to fall apart? How do we cope when we are spiritually and physically exhausted and the World is still telling us that we only need to empower ourselves and all will be well? It is an impossible burden to bear - this myth that we are all powerful and that we don’t need anyone else. It is little wonder that we fail miserably. Unfortunately when we do fail we tend to hit out at those who are in our immediate vicinity because the additional burden of our failure is too much to bear and so we blame others.
The Christian message is very different – It is one which upholds humility as a virtue not a weakness. John the Baptist was a wonderful witness to Christ but he was not Christ. He knew his limitations and in that he found comfort. He could not bear the burden that Christ was going to have to bear. He knew that he was not worthy to even “untie the thong of [Christ’s] sandals”!
The prophet Isaiah in todays lesson from chapter 40 brings comfort in the knowledge that the Lord will “feed his flock like a shepherd” and “gather the lambs in his arms”. We are not God! – We are his children and we need God and we need each other. This is not a sign of weakness but rather of Grace. As we continue our Advent pilgrimage let us wait on God in the sure and certain hope that he will not let us down.