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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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)

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)

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…

Advent reflection: a season of coming and going

The season of Advent invites us to make a journey towards a humble crib in a stable and to ask God to connect us to the enduring, hope-filled experience of becoming part of his unfolding New Creation.

Each and every human makes a journey to and beyond a crib and yet each crib is situated in a particular context which shapes and is shaped by them.

To engage with how Jesus’ context shaped him we need to imagine what it is like to be born into relative poverty, under the shadow of a political power which threatens our very life even before we can crawl. We need to wonder what it would be like to be forced into exile and to live with the ensuing instability and fear that that produces in the family. But we also need to imagine the affirmation of the shepherds (who were so despised by the Roman imperial powers as to have no voice in court), and, of course, to receive the gifts of wise men beyond the limitations of our immediate context. For some of us, we would need also to imagine what a life with a loving mother and a father would be like.

Aspects of Jesus’ context might be very alien and hard to imagine for some, but for many, there is resonance in the gritty reality of our own lives across the world in the 21st century…

Beyond the crib, Jesus grew up and began to teach. Through his teaching and his lifestyle he demonstrated how he could speak relevantly into his context without being blind to the injustices which affected not only himself but also others he saw suffering around him. It appears clear that he carried a vision of  how life should be lived which not only informed his teaching but ultimately led him to refuse to be defined by the powers which dominated and shaped his context… we know the end of that story.

Advent is a season of moving towards Jesus in his crib…but more than that, it is a powerful reminder that to go with him beyond the crib is to engage ourselves in a life which is inextricably connected to the vision of the well-being and justice of all of creation which Mary alludes to in her song of praise, before Jesus’ birth:

…He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
 and exalted those of humble estate;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
 and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

In a very real sense we cannot celebrate Advent, without at the same time celebrating Easter…for to come to the crib is to also go to the cross and say, as have many Wilberforces, Kellers, Bonhoeffers, Fry’s, Luther Kings, Wollstonecrafts, Parks and countless other ordinary people across the world, “not on my watch” to the destructive powers which disfigure our contexts.

The particular joy of approaching the crib lays in the assurance that Emmanuel, God is with us and that his love is a love stronger than death. It is this love which promises to reshape our context as we go faithfully with Christ, beyond the innocence of the crib into a world in pain which is waiting, in eager anticipation, for the advent and revelation of the lives of those who walk in the footsteps of Christ. (Romans 8:19)

Oh Come Oh come Emmanuel!

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,
That moans to lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, dear Lord, with mercy and grace,
Make strong the weak and heal the human race,
The hungry feed, the needy clothe
That by example we will learn to love.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

Just Advent

Light.of.the.world

Advent is all about justice. Not in the form of harsh and unyielding judgement but in the form of the in-breaking of a new reality, a new vision or paradigm of life which is breathtaking in its beauty and grace. Those who have been close to a newborn child have experienced the indescribable power of the creative miracle and the potent sense of newness and mystery which unfurls the moment this new reality is beheld and touched. The incarnation is highly creative at many levels and unveils a masterful social kaleidoscope of art and beauty seemingly still beyond many of our imaginations to grasp.

The season of advent reminds us to continue to immerse ourselves in the active hopefulness of watching for and participating in this in-breaking advent of God’s justice and peace which knows no end (Isaiah 9:7). Isaiah’s extraordinary vision of God’s justice which radically re-orders our present reality and banishes fear, pride and predatory hierarchies of power and re-establishes a community of shalom is a truly astonishing read:

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 power,

the Spirit of knowledge and of the 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 hole of the cobra,

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

They will neither harm nor destroy

on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.

Shalom Shalom!