Advent 4: Liberation!

The Advent of our God
Our prayers must now employ,
And we must meet him on his road
With hymns of holy joy.

The everlasting Son
Incarnate soon shall be :
He will a servant’s form put on,
To make his people free.

Rev. John Chandler, The Hymns of the Primitive Church (London: John W. Parker, 1837), Number 36, pp. 39-40.

In this mini Advent series we’ve reflected on three themes of advent encapsulated in this hymn: Advent as ENCOUNTER, Advent as SERVICE  and in this final post I want to consider Advent as LIBERATION.

The theme of liberation or becoming free runs through the scriptures like a river course and is inextricably linked with what the Old Testament prophets identified as the justice and righteousness of God which manifests Shalom (wholeness, flourishing and peace) and what the New Testament writers identified as the saving and wholeness-making love of God which manifests liberation, restoration and peace- equivalent to the Old Testament concept of Shalom

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The prophet Isaiah says this of the re-ordering, restoring and liberating hope which was to come in the person of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 11):

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—

the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of might,

the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord

and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,

or decide by what he hears with his ears;

but with righteousness he will judge the needy,

with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.

He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;

with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

Righteousness will be his belt

and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,

the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together;

and a little child will lead them.

The cow will feed with the bear,

their young will lie down together,

and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

The infant will play near the cobra’s den,

and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

They will neither harm nor destroy

on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.

Mary’s Magnificat prayer-song as she anticipates the birth of Jesus echoes this liberating theme (Luke 1:44-56) and in the eye-witness account of Luke, Jesus Christ himself describes his purpose in his reading of the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue (Luke 4:18-19):

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

So, this ancient hymn of the primitive Church enjoins us during this season of Advent and beyond to continue to encounter, serve and live in the fullness of liberation which brings hope to our worlds. This year saw the publication of a new edition of the Bible which aims to highlight the river of liberation which courses through biblical scripture, to which we were privileged to make a contribution-it is called God’s Justice Bible and is well worth looking at if you have not already got or seen a copy.

It is thrilling to be part of a world wide family which is called to love beyond borders and to seek a kingdom or a way of life which is radically inclusive and governed by a God whose loving justice restores and brings wholeness to those who seek… I’ll leave you with another old song which I remember singing with gusto as a child which is based on Jesus’ invitation to all of us who want to follow him (Matthew 6) .

Warmest greetings to you this Christmas from Andy and I at the jusTice initiative!

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Refuge and watering holes from Aleppo to Wales

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Originally posted on justiceadvocacyandmission.wordpress.com:
Before the war, I didn’t pay attention to how much water I used. But now, water is like gold for me. It’s practically holy. (29-year-old Ali) Water sourced from underground wells in Aleppo (Photo:…

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Advent 3: Himself a servant’s form puts on

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The everlasting Son
Incarnate deigns to be;
Himself a servant’s form puts on

(Charles Coffin, The Advent of our God, Hymns of the Primitive Church, 1837)

The second theme highlighted in the Advent hymn is the servant nature of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

The above quote, attributed to the Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun, Teresa of Avila,  connects the intrinsic dignity we share as humans created in God’s likeness with the dignity of service modelled by Jesus. For many of us it can be difficult to see dignity in service because we have often encountered, in either subtle or flagrant form, coercion, domination and fear. We also live in a world which prizes independence and self-actualisation and scorns vulnerability or perceived ‘neediness’. These cultural imbalances and misuses of power have sometimes distorted how we understand what it means to serve each other in love.

Yet at the heart of the gospel is a call to entering in, like a child, full of curiosity and openness to the way of living together which Jesus modelled.

Lee Loun-Ling, training director for CMS Asia importantly links the nature of leadership and service in her recent summary of the impact of Asian women in the growth of Christianity:

Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922) One of India’s most revolutionary thinkers of her time, she was known as a pioneering social reformer, defying the caste system and overcoming barriers to rescue outcast children, widows, orphans, and destitute women.

 

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Internally displaced girls, who fled a military offensive in the Swat valley region, help each other wash hands at the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) Sheik Shahzad camp in Mardan district, about 160 km (99 miles) northwest of Pakistan's capital Islamabad June 18, 2009.   REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro   (PAKISTAN CONFLICT POLITICS SOCIETY)

Internally displaced girls, who fled a military offensive in the Swat valley region, help each other wash hands at the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) Sheik Shahzad camp in Mardan district, about 160 km (99 miles) northwest of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad June 18, 2009. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro (PAKISTAN CONFLICT POLITICS SOCIETY)

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Advent 2: ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?’

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Georges Rouault-The appearance on the road to Emmaus

The Advent of our God
Our prayers must now employ,
And we must meet him on his road
With hymns of holy joy.

(Charles Coffin, The Advent of our God, Hymns of the Primitive Church, 1837)

It may seem strange to insert a piece of  art depicting a scene from the post-resurrection story of the meeting on the road to Emmaus during the season of Advent, but there is a reason…

Revelation and encounter with truth sometimes come when we least expect it. In spite of hearing reports from women who had seen the resurrected Jesus these disciples were not expecting to encounter Jesus on the road, but that is exactly what happened:

Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures? (Luke 24:32)

That disreputable shepherds and foreigners were led to and encountered Jesus in the lowly byre before those who were the official truth-holders of the tradition should at least make us stop and reflect…

Do we remain open to encountering Jesus ‘on the road’, in unexpected places, through or alongside unexpected people…?

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you… (Ephesians 1:17-18)

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Hope – Making Mission Meaningful

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In this season of Advent, the concept of hope comes to the fore; it is the incarnation, ‘God with us’, that gives each one of us, humanity as a whole and all of the created order, hope of reconciliation, renewal and restoration. Hope is also a critical element of mission; it is the Hope of ‘God with us’, that distinguishes the Christian concept from any other notion of hope, and provides the basis for God’s mission – a mission compelled by love.

Below is the text of my third and last in a series of 3 posts on mission:

In my two previous blog posts, Location, Location, Location and Empathic Leadership, I considered questions around ‘where we are’ and ‘who we are’. Our context and our character are key factors which help shape meaningful missional presence and the MA programme at ForMission College righty addresses these. The third element in this mini-series addresses the ‘why?’ and ‘what for?’ questions. Without a clear sense of purpose, we can completely miss the point of mission; to bear hope-filled ‘Good News’.

The result of the recent referendum, has brought our future, personally, nationally and globally into sharp focus. Depending on your political views, you may well sum up the current situation as one of hope, or despair; ‘Great Britain’ or ‘Broken Britain’, or more likely, as something in between! Our identity as a nation is under scrutiny and if we do not know where the journey is leading our hope for the future is critically affected. We live in times of great change and the resurrection narrative, which lies at the heart of the Gospel, orients us as a missional community to bring hope to share in this fast-changing context.

Tom Wright’s important book, Surprised by Hope, addresses the important issues of our destiny, the hope we have and how this impacts the way we live right now. Wright reminds us that our future home is a new heavens and a new earth and that this world is in the process of being refined and restored. We have a hope that is promised in Scripture, glimpsed through the pages of Isaiah and Revelation, and we have been entrusted to be co-participants with God in working that out.

So our hope is not just in the ‘yet to come’, but also in the ‘now’; this is the reality of God’s kingdom which has been ushered in and is active today. Working for the common good of the whole of God’s creation is demonstrated through pro-actively and faithfully beginning to live out this new reality ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. Tom Wright’s insight helps to deepen our understanding of this, and may well bring new revelation to some of us.

So then, the three dimensions of ‘context’, ‘empathy’ and ‘hope’, serve to equip and orientate the community of believers engaged in God’s mission, the missio dei. Shalom, the Old Testament Hebrew term to describe well-being, wholeness and the flourishing of all aspects of life (echoed by the New Testament writers in the word ‘peace’), is a valuable concept which helps focus our vision, and this will be developed in future blogs. God intimately loves His creation and worship of God demonstrates our love for God, the outworking of which forms the essence of missional community.

I finish with a quote from the first chapter of the book, Carnival Kingdom: biblical justice for global communities, referring to the vision of both the present and future hope that Wright describes:

…the Kingdom is described as an ‘upside down Kingdom’ – radically different to the status quo of earthly kingdoms where power and privilege coalesce in the hands of a few, often at the expense of the majority. At the heart of the vision of the reign of God is the belief that this reign will result in shalom; the delightful and convivial energy of a community at one and at peace with itself, in purposeful service to God and the greater good of the rest of creation (Carol Kingston-Smith, 2013, p.4)

The above blog post was originally published on ForMission College’s website at: http://formission.org.uk/hope-making-mission-meaningful/ on 18th October 2016.

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Advent 1: The Advent of our God

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The Advent of our God
Our prayers must now employ,
And we must meet him on his road
With hymns of holy joy.

The everlasting Son
Incarnate soon shall be :
He will a servant’s form put on,
To make his people free.

Rev. John Chandler, The Hymns of the Primitive Church (London: John W. Parker, 1837), Number 36, pp. 39-40.

Advent invites us to both remember historical events leading up to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, and to anticipate and participate in the continuous incarnation and encounter with God.

The above hymn encapsulates in just these two short verses key themes for this season:

  • As God moves towards us we also ‘must meet him on his road’
  • Incarnation is about service within a specific context
  • Incarnation brings freedom within a specific context

…more anon…

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Book Review: Sympathy for Jonah: Reflections on humiliation, terror and the politics of enemy-love

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Illustrator Benjamin Harris [1] 

David Benjamin Blower’s Sympathy for Jonah is a slim but by no means a light read. It is an elegant and succinct work of profound poeisis; the artistic creation of a powerful imaginative lens which dives deep into the narrative of the book of Jonah and emerges with some paradigm-shifting reflections on this very familiar but often under understood story.

Whilst not a read for the faint-hearted, by David’s own admission, “Only when we are shocked, horrified, and unmade by the story of Jonah can we begin to imagine that we have understood it” (Epilogue, p57), it is a book imbued with the hope-filled vision that Love’s creative resistance, insistence and interruptive power will manifest again and again “awkward pauses in time in which repentance becomes possible and another world imaginable” (p55).

The book opens with a real time explosion- the recent bombing by Islamic State Militants of Jonah’s alleged shrine in Mosul dramatically connects by way of a twist of explosive wire and a BBC camera this ancient story and the contemporary reader. As the “flameless puff of gray dust” (xvi) settles, the reader is plunged into a disorienting sea of shanties and dirges, monsters of the deep and humiliations. David invites the reader to consider “why is the image of a man on his knees in the belly of a whale so compelling to us?” (p4) His chapter exploring the ‘episode in the whale’ ends with the warning stage whisper: “God help the revolution that has not first known humiliation” (p.10)

In Sympathy for Jonah David has attempted a somewhat Ricoeurian[2] resuscitation of traditional narrative in order to help us imagine and reconnect with a way of being present in and to our world which moves us hopefully into the future. He resolutely goes about the task of pushing the mythic fish tale off the sandbar of unimaginative, modern speculation and back into the mysterious depths. David then proceeds to tackle three key areas: our judgements about why Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah (was he really racist?), our beliefs about why he ended up in the belly of a large fish (is God really unkindly punitive?) and lastly our understanding of what those 3 days ‘inside’ were really about? (was it really just alternative transport?).

Sympathy for Jonah is an impactful read and its theological location is firmly in the heartland of radical non-violent love of Other. Jonah is a story of subversion- a literal ‘turning from below’ and David has taken its timeless message and enlivened it with a teacher’s attention to truth and application, a counsellor’s reflection on the inward and outward journey of reconciliation and a prophet’s call to an extraordinary type of non-violent, restorative justice:

Only by following him into the whale’s belly, by earnestly undergoing the death-and-resurrection of his baptism, and by allowing ourselves also to be unmade and dismantled, dislodged from the structures and obligations of the current order, and empowered with a strength to love that goes beyond ourselves, only then can we begin to adopt the Jonaic practice, the way of the cross and the call of the gospel: to go to the terrible other in search of the image of God.” (David Benjamin Blower, 2016, Epilogue, 57)

As David reminds us, “The book of Jonah is short. It takes up less than two pages of the Bible” (p.2) and though Sympathy for Jonah is also a short book the images it conjures speak thousands of words. In his Forward, Ched Myers draws attention to the bigger picture which David Blower’s reading of Jonah paints; the calling to journey towards the reconciliation of all things: “Ultimately, if humanity is to survive, the murderous logic of empire must be turned around. And nothing less is God’s will for history.” (Ched Myers, Forword, xi). David’s reading of Jonah insists that at key moments we need to be interrupted, however inconvenient, to be stopped in our tracks to examine whether we are living the narrative of empire or of the upside-down kingdom of Heaven: “One day there will be an interruption, and imperial time will stop as it has done many times before, and everyone will wait for it to start up again, but it won’t. It finally won’t be able to fool itself into being anymore, and all its machinery will be hammered into something good and beautiful, or thrown into the fire. And then we will know that the world to come is finally here.” (Blower, 55)

I highly recommend this book. It is at times a disturbing read-empire, domination, cruelty and violence are disturbing themes after all, but it carries profound prophetic relevance for the times in which we live.

Endnotes

[1] Illustrator, Benjamin Harris’ website

[2] The Christian philosopher, Paul Ricoeur develops his ethical hermeneutic around the importance of reading and meaningfully connecting our past and its traditions with our present in order to bridge with integrity into the future: “The entire present is in crisis when expectancy takes refuge in utopia and tradition congeals into a dark residue” (Time and Narrative Vol. III, p. 235)

[3] Author David Benjamin Blower’s website 

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