Healing our broken humanity

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Has anyone had a child ask them recently ‘how many weeks until Christmas?’

When our 4 were younger it usually came up about 2 weeks after they started back at school following the long summer break; like a beacon of hope, the promise of Christmas beckoned them onward, resolute through the Autumn term.

For most of us the central message of Christ’s birth, the incarnation, is not at the forefront of our minds as we busy ourselves in preparation… It is hard to balance the material reality of a traditional, Western Christmas with the extraordinary, life-altering message of God’s self-giving love which was expressed uniquely in the person of a small and vulnerable baby, born on the margins of a powerful empire.

Yet, the mode in which God chose to reveal himself is a starting point, an identity marker, for our discipleship as followers of Jesus.

The incarnation gives us key clues to the question ‘how then should we live as people of faith?’ which are explored in imaginative and practical depth in the Global Church Project 

We highly recommend that you take time to explore the resources for yourself, your church, discipleship group, youth group or seminary class.

As we reflect on the Great Promises of the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 61 let us also remember that as people of faith we are called to manifest God’s love in each and every context we find ourselves. This may require us to cross uncomfortable boundaries in order to maintain faithful testimony to the call to be ‘New Humanity’ which the Apostle Paul spoke about in Ephesians.

In Healing broken humanity various people explore what this might mean in different contexts around the world.

[Click on the link and the 10 minute video is at the bottom of the page.]

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!