Today is John the Baptist Sunday, when we listen to the voice of the prophet reminding us that the way we live and the world we live in are just not in line with the heart of God and we need to change our ways, repent, live differently. But, I have to be honest, this week I need to hear something kinder and more caring, and to find something that just helps me to get through the days of Advent, and to find the presence of God in our world. Unexpectedly that gentle, pastoral voice comes through the words of St. Paul.
Philippians is one of St. Paul’s pastoral letters, when he writes to those he loves, and his passion and compassion shine through every word. For many of us the word ‘pastoral’ is quite a ‘church-y’ word, defining a role or activity that people are called out to do in a special way. It’s not the word we use to describe everyday acts of kindness to friend or stranger. Yet for St. Paul pastoral care begins with something that all of us can do: it begins with prayer. Praying for people is how we can all show that we care, right now in the present moment, without even getting up from our chair.
The word pastoral also has another meaning: It describes a way of life that is in touch with creation and the rhythm of seasons. Those who live in touch with the cycle of seasons will know about responding to immediate needs. As my train hurtled through the English landscape this week, I looked out on fields damaged by wind, hardened by frosts. I thought of farmers and gardeners simply going out and repairing damage, preparing the ground and tending livestock with care.
The big cry of the prophet in Advent to put things right sometimes needs to be translated into the actions we take right now, as we live in the pastoral present moment. The presence of the God whom we wait for and long for draws close to us and to those whom we love and pray for as our love overflows with more and more knowledge and insight.
Revd Canon Dr Sandra Millar