Advent 3: Himself a servant’s form puts on

quote-always-think-of-yourself-as-everyone-s-servant-look-for-christ-our-lord-in-everyone-and-you-will-teresa-of-avila-272008

 

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?’

99028739cd34983e08def9b36390fb6f
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)

Justice as the Mission of God

Last night Redcliffe College hosted Joel Edwards, International director for Micah Challenge as guest speaker at the World Christianity Lecture on a topic close to our hearts. The presentation will soon be available on you tube and the full transcript of the talk will be made available on our new website.

His opening thoughts included a powerful quote from Tom Wright’s Simply Christian as follows:

“We dream the dream of justice. We glimpse, for a moment, a world at one, a world put to rights, a world where things work out, where societies function healthily, were I not only know what I ought to do but actually do it. And then we wake up and come back to reality. But what are we hearing when we dream that dream?”

It was an excellent and challenging lecture which emphasised the importance of correcting our faulty biblical interpretations of concepts of holiness, righteousness and justice which ought to be viewed and practised as fully integrated rather than mutually exclusive elements of Christian faith in action. Justice is about God-empowered citizenship which participates in all aspects of life both private and public in order to witness to the goodness and shalom of God’s kingdom, as Joel summarises:

Justice is the catalysing arrangement, which bridges the gap between our relationship with God and our material relationship with those around us.

There will be more to follow but meanwhile please take a look at Micah Challenges excellent group resource The Jesus Agenda .

“It’s been a bad day”…postcolonial critique through music

Continuing to consider how music plays an important role in raising themes of justice I wanted to look a little closer at R.E.M‘s political trilogy-identified by Michael Stipe as  Final straw, Bad day and Until the day is done. Threaded throughout the lyrics is a clear critique of power, in this case the power of the U.S government.

In postcolonial theory and writing the critique of power is quite intentional; it aims to create a new dialogical space, that is, to create a space for another voice to be heard, the voice or voices of those who are oppressed or affected by the power-brokering of the Powerful. In this respect R.E.M’s protest or political music could be considered postcolonial. Let’s have a look at what these three songs have to say.

In the face of the realities of greed, revenge and war Final Straw asserts the centrality of the concepts of love and forgiveness:

Now love cannot be called into question.
Forgiveness is the only hope I hold.
And love- love will be my strongest weapon.
I do believe that I am not alone.

Likewise, in the song Bad day, the children’s nursery rhyme Ring a ring o’ Roses is deployed in a chilling critique of governmental failure, inequality and the growing threat of global resource wars.

The lights went out, the oil ran dry
We blamed it on the other guy
Sure, all men are created equal.
Heres the church, heres the steeple
Please stay tuned-we cut to sequel
ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Broadcast me a joyful noise unto the times, lord,
Count your blessings.
Ignore the lower fear
Ugh, this means war.

It’s been a bad day.
Please don’t take a picture.
It’s been a bad day.
Please.

Lastly, an embittered reflection on the financial crash is the subject of  the last post’s song Until the day is done:

The battle’s been lost, the war is not won
An addled republic, a bitter refund
The business first flat earthers licking their wounds
The verdict is dire, the country’s in ruins

Providence blinked, facing the sun
Where are we left to carry on
Until the day is done
Until the day is done

As we’ve written our stories to entertain
These notions of glory and bull market gain
The teleprompt flutters, the power surge brings
An easy speed message falls into routine

Music can certainly be subversive and unsettling to the status quo but it can also be a powerful promoter of an alternative vision of reality. There is a real sense in which R.E.M’s trilogy calls us to account as citizens of the world with the core question: how should we live?

Jesus promoted a vision of how to live in his Sermon on the Mount and his other teachings which may not have been music to the ears of the powerful then or now.

Any thoughts?