Advent 2 Year A

The Advent Virus

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I came across this message on the internet recently.   It was headed ‘Warning: Advent virus”.

“Be on the alert for symptoms of inner Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to this virus and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.

Some signs and symptoms of The Advent Virus:

- A tendency to think and act spontaneously, rather than on fears based on past experiences.
- An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
- A loss of interest in judging other people.
- A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
- A loss of interest in conflict.
- A loss of the ability to worry (this is a very serious symptom.)
- Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
- Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
- Frequent attacks of smiling.
- An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
- An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

This virus is one of the most powerful the world has ever known.   Make sure your anti-virus software is up to date if you don’t want to risk infection.”

I’ve no idea who dreamt up this light-hearted comment on Advent.   But it made me think.   What is a virus, and what is the connection between viruses that make us ill and those which infect computers?   Viruses of both kinds multiply rapidly; spread rapidly; and infect their hosts – unless their hosts, whether people or computers, are protected against them.   We generally think of viruses as being bad.   The novelty of the Advent virus is of course that this virus is good – because it is the virus of kindness, peace and goodwill.  

We can easily allow the idea of Christmas being a time of peace and goodwill to slide into being little more than a cliché, a rather unimaginative message for Christmas cards.   How do the peace and goodwill which we associate with Christmas become real?   How can Christmas be a time of friendship,   generosity and kindness rather than just another seasonal hurdle to overcome?    At Parwich church last week, on Advent Sunday, I asked everyone to write down one idea for spreading kindness on a cardboard star.   I gathered these in , and we displayed some of them on a paper Christmas tree. People suggested visiting someone who was living on their own; buying a present for someone to whom they didn’t usually send a present; one girl said ‘be nice to a pony’.   At the end of the service I gave them all out again, so that everyone could take away with them the idea for an act of kindness which someone else had thought of.   This prompted someone to tell me, after the service, about an idea which has been spreading in America.   There are people who, when they reach a toll gate on the motorway, pay the toll of the vehicle behind them as well as their own. This causes such surprise to those behind them that quite often, the driver of that vehicle will in turn pay the toll of the vehicle behind it – and so it spreads.  

There is so much in the world today which shows how quickly evil spreads.   Violence breeds more violence as people seek revenge.   Selfishness breeds more selfishness as people see no alternative to putting their own interests first.   Hatred gives rise to more hatred, and so on.   These are forms of virus – multiplying, spreading, infecting – which all too readily take root, if nothing is done to stop them.  

But let’s remember, during this Advent season, as we prepare for Christmas, that it doesn’t have to be this way.   The Advent virus – the virus of kindness, peace and goodwill – is just as powerful, indeed much more so – if people play their part in spreading it.   In today’s gospel reading, we heard how John the Baptist told the people of his time to prepare for the coming of the Messiah by repenting of their sins.   By this he meant that they should turn away from the things which were bad – selfishness, violence, greed, hatred – and to those things which were good, and of God.   As we too prepare to celebrate the coming of our Lord this Christmas time, let us each find our own way of spreading the Advent virus.    For great things can and do begin with small things.   After all, the whole of human history was changed by a baby’s birth in a backwater of the Roman empire, all those years ago.

Christopher Harrison