Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Amidst the Wreckage

Advent Sunday
29 November 2020
10.30 Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

A few years ago, whilst I was still serving in the Army, I prosecuted a soldier for causing death by dangerous driving

Given the gravity of the offence it was a General Court Martial with all its pomp and ceremony

In those days, swords, medals and gloves were worn

There was a great deal riding on the case

The individual knew that he faced a substantial term of imprisonment if he was convicted

The family of the deceased wanted justice to be done for their son as did his partner

And the wife of the accused knew that she might lose her husband

I felt enormous pressure as I faced my opponent across the court room.

The facts of the case were tragic

The accused was a young soldier who had recently been promoted

The increase in his earnings brought about a chance to finance a faster car and he bought himself a two litre Rover

One night, after a party, he decided to take his best friend for a spin

They had been drinking heavily but, typically, had just decided to go round the block

It proved to be an immensely foolish decision

As they drove back towards home the car spun out of control and crashed into the verge just to the side of a bus shelter

The passenger, despite wearing a seat belt, was propelled out of the car like a javelin

His head was buried in the earth and his neck was broken

He died instantly whilst the driver remained unconscious at the wheel, air bag inflated

The scene was attended by the German police who called the emergency services

An ambulance took the driver to hospital and a sample of blood was removed from him despite him being unable to consent

He was found to be twice the legal limit

In his interview under caution, the driver claimed that his best friend had tried to grab the wheel of the car before it crashed

A forensic expert estimated that the car had been travelling at twice the speed limit

The case was not without its problems

The blood alcohol reading was challenged on the grounds that the sample was taken without the consent of the accused

The defence sought to put forward expert evidence that the dead passenger was responsible and, in any event, they claimed that the driving was not “dangerous”

These difficulties were overcome by the Crown

And the accused was duly convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment

But the case was not only legally draining but also emotionally draining at the same time

I would hold a conference with the family of the deceased at the end of each day to explain what was going on at court and what was to come

The wife of the accused wept as he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment and so did the accused 

But, as well as being emotionally draining, it was also cathartic

The mother of the deceased thanked the witness who had tried to give her son CPR at the roadside

The partner of the deceased spoke to the court about the man she had loved and lost

And the father shook my hand at the end of the proceedings

But a strange thing happened to me towards the end of the trial

I obviously felt the pain of all those involved but, before the trial had ended, I suddenly felt consumed by the love of God

I rose above the car crash and knew that despite the tragedy and despite the loss

This ghastly situation was redeemed by the love of our Lord Jesus Christ

I felt profoundly moved whilst sitting in the court room

I knew that, whatever life threw at any of us

What had been twisted so grotesquely out of shape in a car crash, was now untwisted

God’s redeeming work was at hand

You may ask what all this has to do with Advent Sunday?

It may all seems a bit bleak for what is the beginning of the countdown to Christmas

But, in my view, it illustrates so clearly what Advent is about and even more so this year

Because, for intents and purposes, this year has been a car crash – a car crash for the country, for individuals and for the economy

People have lost lives, loved ones, livelihoods and certainties

And we are all, to an extent, caught up in the wreckage

But being caught up in the wreckage can be paradoxical as my courtroom experience showed

Because amidst the wreckage, the twisted metal, blood, broken limbs and relationships

God had, peculiarly, never been clearer

The Flemish painter Jan Gossaert painted a Nativity Scene called “The adoration of the Kings”

It was a painting of the nativity set in a scene of total devastation amongst ruined buildings.

A scene, if you like, of utter devastation

Many of the sixteenth and seventeenth century paintings of the nativity are set in such landscapes and are deeply symbolic

Because despite the destruction, the sovereignty of God is proclaimed in the ruins

The Christ child could not be clearer in the painting

And God becomes understandable through the birth of a child when so much else is unintelligible

And so here we are on Advent Sunday

A year in which we have seen the death of over 55,000 of our citizens

The lockdown of Churches and immense damage to our economy and to ordinary lives

To a degree, we are inhabiting the ruins of our own faith also caught up in the wreckage around us

But the majesty of Christianity is that we know how the story unfolds

We know that amidst the ruins of our life

The disasters, the wars, the graveside, the pandemics

That goodness cannot be extinguished

To quote Iris Murdoch, “in a world of pain and loss, religion proclaims the imperishable sovereignty of God