Rev Tim Stead, Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry

AS I write, the bombing has started. A few hours after the House of Commons voted to extend our bombing campaign to Syria, the first sorties were out.

Meanwhile, the Christian church celebrates its season of Advent as a time of waiting: a time of quiet preparation and of definitely-not-yet-Christmas.

I do not have the experience or knowledge of the world situation to predict whether this bombing campaign will achieve the long term peace we long for, or merely fuel further and longer armed struggles, but it does seem to me an irony of timing for it to be launched at the beginning of Advent.

After 9/11 the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote a book called Writing in the Dust.

He was there, in New York, just a few blocks away from the twin towers when they fell.

The title of the book refers to an extraordinary story in the gospels where a woman who had been caught “in the very act of adultery” was thrown down in front of Jesus so that the religious elders of the moment could test out his mettle.

He was known for being a friend of and showing compassion to such women.

But if he refused to condemn this woman he would be undermining the law of Moses which said she should be stoned to death.

This, in turn, would undermine the respect he was held in by the people. He was trapped – surely.

It was an impossible situation for him. And I am sure many a politician will realise that they too face impossible choices – just like the decision to extend the recent bombing campaign.

So, what did Jesus do to get out of this one? Well... nothing. He just knelt down and “wrote with his finger on the ground” (John 8.6).

It is not recorded what he wrote and so we may assume it does not matter.

What matters is that this was his way of avoiding being forced into an immediate reaction by people who felt they had cornered him.

Perhaps he needed time to let all the strongest and most emotive thoughts and feelings pass until his mind felt clearer.

Who knows what those feelings might have been: anger at the self-righteousness of the elders, irritation that the man involved was not here too, compassion or even frustration with the woman?

It could have been any of these things and more which might have propelled him into making some rush judgment based on initial impressions and feelings.

So instead of pronouncing judgement, he simply wrote in the dust.

This is what Rowan Williams felt the western nations should have done after 9/11.

They needed to take the time to let the (very reasonable) rage, anger, pain, desperation and desire for revenge subside until the situation became clearer and the wise course of action began to emerge.

They needed to bear the agony of doing nothing in order that when they did do something it would be the right thing.

I do not know whether enough waiting and doing nothing happened before the House of Commons decision to bomb.

I do know how often we all rush to decisions in the midst of our hurt, anger or fear and end up making situations worse than they were before.

So, perhaps Advent could be a time where we all practise “writing in the dust”.

Doing nothing is not necessarily indecision.

It could be the very best way to make the decisions which will bring peace and reconciliation.

But it will need practice.