On this day, 24 years ago, Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush concluded a two-day summit in Malta and declared the Cold War to be over. This was part of an extraordinary season of political events in Eastern Europe as communist dictatorships came to an end. I was aged 20 at the time and studying history at university. The pace of change felt fast and thrilling. I knew something significant was happening, and that a new era in east-west relations was beginning. It was exciting times!
The characters of Advent which we read about at the beginning of Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels were similarly living through times of change. Something was stirring. People were having divinely-inspired dreams; an old barren woman was expecting; a comet was rising; magi were travelling; angels were visiting; a virgin was expecting. These too were exciting times!
The end of the Cold War in 1989 felt like a water-shed moment when everything would be different. And for many millions of people things did change for the better. But looking back now, some 20 years later, not all that we hoped for has yet been realised.
What about the events of Advent? How should we assess them? Are they disappointing, or life-changing? The conclusion of our ancestors was that the Advent events were so significant that they’d re-date time based around them! That’s why the calendar was restructured into before and after the coming of Christ (BC and AD).
Those who experienced the first Advent adventures knew something important was going on. Perhaps they felt like some of us did 24 year ago – that a Cold War was ending and a new era beginning. Maybe they didn’t fully grasp the significance of the times, but what was clear was everything was centred around the arrival of a baby named Jesus. His Advent – his coming – announced a new era. A new start. And brought new hope. And still does.
That first Advent was a bit like the end of the Cold War. But instead of affecting only part of the world’s population at a particular point in history, the coming of Jesus is for everyone for all time. Including me and you. Now that is significant!
What era of change have you lived through? Is your life, like the re-dating of the calendar, built around the person of Jesus Christ?