Landscape from Young, NSW 2011

The Flag

There stands in my back yard a bamboo tomato stake... purloined by the children. It is about 8 feet high, and lashed to the top is a flag made out of material scraps stuck onto a piece of linen with Aquadhere. The linen is glued onto the post.

The flag pole slipped as they were putting it up, so it is hanging at right angles to the bamboo stake. There are three more stakes around the one holding up the flag. One is nearly as high, the others are about three feet high. The last of our ball of kitchen string has been used to tie a kind of fence around these three, roping off the flag pole. White plastic supermarket bags are tied to the string, so that you won't walk into it.

It's a stark scene. The flag stands in bare sand, where nothing is growing. The background is the bare corner of a yard where two bare galvanised fences intersect. All you see is the raggle taggle flag, an untidy compost heap, and a couple of badly chewed cabbages.

Christopher, who is five, came inside and announced proudly, excitedly, and beaming with happiness and achievement, that this was "A Flag For The Beginning Of A New World."

Maybe it's just a children's game. But perhaps it's their only way of articulating what they cannot say but feel only too deeply... that we are at the end of an old world. The scripture readings for Advent are coming true.... there are signs in the skies and the ozone layer is thinning. There are 'wars and rumours of wars'.

Parents and grandparents look on with fear and foreboding, wondering what sort of world it will be for their children and grandchildren. And those little children know it. They listen to all the conversations. Kids TV is full of stuff about saving the environment. Slightly older people, who perhaps haven't faced the starkness of their mortality as much as their grandparents, envy those older people. At least they lived in a better time.... we look forward to the green house effect and the end of the world by poisoning.

There is a deep pessimism amongst our children. When pollution became an issue in the early sixties when I was a school, we loved it! It was another good to know for picking up marks in social studies tests at school, for most children. Now little five and six year olds know about Kuwait and the oil fires. And they worry about them. They see the oil scum floating in our creeks, and the inches deep layer of rubbish on the River Torrens, and smell its stench, and are distressed by it. Already their world is rotting and decaying around them. Eight year olds express their pain and anger at the destruction of the world, which they have to live in, wishing people had not been so greedy and unkind to the world. "I wish people had never been here!" Little girls watching the fireworks at the Royal Show with delight, suddenly burst into inconsolable tears because of all the acrid powder smoke drifting off up into the night is destroying the ozone layer.

And they are the ones who are right! The world is dying. We become inured to it a little. We learn to ignore it. They see with a clear vision, and go out and plant a flag for a new world. We know they are right because we feel the fear and pain too. God says to us, when these things begin to happen, lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near! A flag has been planted! A tall upright tree, with a cross bar at right angles, and a man lashed and nailed to it. Jesus Christ, a flag for the beginning of a new world.

Advent and Christmas and Easter.... the events of a year lashed together in a flag for the beginning of a new world! We are invited to work for this new world which is called the Kingdom of God.... come and eat. Come and eat simply like little children... simple in the eyes of others, yet clearly seeing the matter.

Andrew Prior


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