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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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 .

Are we ready to be the good news?

Are we ready to be the good news?

Are we ready to be the good news?

A tweet from Joel Edwards struck a chord with me as I was enjoying a sunny breakfast on the patio on Sunday. It read: ‘If you don’t understand the bad news you won’t appreciate the good news.”

I can vividly remember the first time an adult leant down into my shiny-eyed nine-year-old face and said, in answer to some question: “Well, dearie, do you want the good news or the bad news first?” I quickly opted for the bad news first, sensing that going from bad to good might be the best order. That was when I realised, perhaps for the first time, that the full meaning and impact of the good news only made sense when I first understood the bad news.

It can be very overwhelming living with unprecedented access to media coverage of the ‘bad news’ stories unfolding across the planet. Before Jesus left his anxious group of followers, he reminded them not to be afraid (in the face of ‘bad news’), “for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Jesus set the litmus test for his own brand of ‘good news’ when he read from the scroll of Isaiah 61 in the synagogue; it was to be, first and foremost, good news to the poor.

In many of the same ways that the poor of today face the consequences of ‘bad news’, the poor of Jesus’ day faced plenty of bad news. Sometimes, in our desire to keep cheerful and build a momentum of ‘good news’, we can be guilty of overlooking and disregarding or simply of failing to understand the deeper significance of the ‘bad news’.

This last week the foreign secretary, William Hague, said he was weary of harking back to the ‘bad news’ elements of Britain’s imperial history: “We have to get out of this post-colonial guilt and be confident in ourselves.” He then went on to proclaim the ‘good news’ of ‘new and equal partnerships’ with ex-colonies. This certainly would be good news… if it were wholly true. If we open our eyes and are willing not to fudge the bad news about what happens, then Jesus’ message of hope and good news can really begin to make a difference where it matters the most.

One year on from the extraordinary beginning of the global Occupy protest movement and 11 years on from the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11, we might ask ourselves whether and in what ways, as people of faith in the ‘good news’, our thinking has changed in the light of these ‘bad news’ events?

Einstein once said that problems cannot be solved by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them; this resonates with the Apostle Paul’s conviction that, in order to live lives which reflect God’s ‘good news’, our thinking needs to change (Romans 12: 1-2). I am excited when I read or hear of Christians and others who have been spurred on to find new ways of thinking and living which transform our ways of doing business, social care, restorative justice, education and so on. This is in line with the resilient and joy-filled good news of the kingdom.

As we face the challenges and pain of very real consequences of axed benefits for the vulnerable in our midst, increased levels of child poverty in our communities, or the collective amnesias which may turn a blind eye to the very real and on-going unjust consequences of history which continue to shape the world today, we must not forget that our life, in however small a way, can be a bearer of good news for the poor and vulnerable in our midst.

After all is said and done, what is good news for the poor, the orphan, the widow, the alien, the destitute and the prisoner, will be good news for all of us.

(This article was originally published 14/9/12 on Friday Night Theology)