Heaven Touching Earth

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There’s no relevance of this image to this post, I just effing love the latest Star Wars film and wanted to include it somehow and figured topless Kylo Ren might not be appropriate.

I’m standing up in the back of a set of pews set off to one side. My tights-clad feet slip on the wood beneath me, a move which is soon going to bite me in the ass, or more specifically, split my side open and ruin the contemplative mood of silent prayer.

I’m not alone.

We’re all there, together. Well, nearly all there. Philip is missing and we can feel it. We’re a body and we’re missing a vital part, waiting eagerly for his arrival so we can be whole again.

Our uniform of albs is hanging up in a corridor round the corner, but the same crosses hang from our necks. These are ours forever, we’ll carry them with us long after we hang up our albs. And in these few days spent with each other, the most profound moments occur when the string and wood are our identifying markers, not the conspicuous robes of white.

We’re adults – young adults, yes – but we’re grown ups. Between us we’ve collected life experiences and life stories that make us unique but which also bind us together. Wounds run into wounds, laughter meets laughter, prayer follows prayer. But there’s something childlike in us all this evening. We’re pretending to be electric guitars, we’re waving our arms and doing crazy dancing. We’ve mastered the art of sitting and speaking antiphonally, but on this evening, we’re doing a new thing: we’re being free. There’s a stupid grin on my face. I can’t remember the last time my soul felt this free.

And in amidst all this, God is.

***

I once ‘celebrated’ New Year’s Eve with someone whose brother had terminal cancer, that twelfth chime of Big Ben signaled the year her brother was going to die and with each bong her sobs grew louder. This time of year is always marked with people reflecting on the year that’s been and deciding on their self-improvement regimen for the new one. But sometimes the New Year is just that; it’s a new year, not a new you. Big Ben’s ringing out doesn’t result in some ontological change.

But if there’s one thing I’ve been learning it’s this: work on yourself. It’s a never ending process and you don’t need to wait until January 1 to begin it. And it’s not a process that’s like an upwards trajectory; there’ll be ups and downs and the triumphs will feel small and the setbacks overwhelming. But you don’t do this alone. It’s why God gave us himself and gives himself through other people.

This was my wish for 2017:

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It sounds more holy and pious than it actually was. There was no great move of the Holy Spirit behind it. And yet, it came more true than I could ever have imagined it would.

***

We’ve finished setting the room for lunch and we sit down in two arm chairs to pray. She takes my hand.

‘Is it okay if I pray in my language, so I’m not having to think about what to say in English?’

‘Of course.’

She speaks. I’ve no idea what she’s saying, but I feel so warm. It’s my turn. She laughs.

‘You just prayed for me the exact words I prayed for you.’

And in that moment, something has happened. Something so ordinary and yet it feels so extraordinary.

***

We’re all together. One body. One family. And our brave and beautiful brothers and sisters say ‘yes’ and it’s like a celebration deep in my soul. And then another chance to say ‘yes’ again. And it’s terrifying and yet I feel safe. And we say it, one by one.

And Heaven touches earth.

The Father kisses his children. And nothing changes but everything does. You’re no more loved than you were moments before, but you accept it more and love bursts through the caverns of your soul. And those promises you made to those strangers around you, to choose you and to love you, you realise they’re being said to you, but being said to you by friends. And you’re safe. And you’re not alone.

***

‘I have never left you.’ It’s not a whisper, it’s not a shout, it’s at once painful and healing. And it’s Heaven touching earth.

‘We’re here for you.’ Do these two community members of mine realise the magnitude of what they’ve said? It’s not a whisper, it’s not a shout, it’s Heaven touching earth.

***

Heaven touching earth is not just in the spectacular, it’s in the everyday. The act of love, the word of kindness, the laughing and crying and bleeding and scarring. It’s in the bit of Christ that lives in all of us, the bread of community and communion. It’s in the quotidian decisions where the Holy Spirit gently taps on the door.

Heaven touching earth is in the chaplain, after having listened to you complain for ten minutes, uttering six words which change the course of your year. It’s in the couple from church who, without having realised it, have gently dismantled a barrier you’d been holding onto for ages. It’s those glorious teenagers who have stolen your heart, who keep you up at night, and who experience Jesus in such beautiful, childlike ways. It’s five hours after a lunch meeting in a Lebanese restaurant and realising these colleagues you love are actually friends you love. It’s the colleague who cries when she prays because this is her vocation and she’s so in tune with God’s heart. It’s those people you said ‘I choose you’ to. It’s family being family. It’s sitting in the crypt and having a head resting on your shoulder.

It’s the realisation that you didn’t seek out Heaven touching earth. No, it sought out you. ‘Because, Hannah, I have never left you,’ says the Lord.

‘I believe you,’ I say in return.

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Hear The Angels Sing: Glory To The New-Born King!

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Part  4 of the Advent series I’ve written for Viva. Please do consider supporting our Christmas Appeal.

Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings;
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing:
“Glory to the new-born king!”

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the chapel of a former Carmelite monastery in Cornwall. As it housed an enclosed order, the monastery itself is designed to physically create the set-apartness of the nuns who lived, worshipped and served there for many years.

In the chapel there is a round stained-glass window that is just above the main crucifix, which is itself just above the altar. The window depicts what is beyond the monastery’s walls: rolling hills which lead down to the sea, and, perhaps optimistically for Cornwall, the sun blazing through a blue sky.

As I sat in the chapel, cross-legged on the floor, clothed in my brilliant white alb (prayer robe), my eyes were drawn from the gold cross on the altar, to the large crucifix, and finally to the iridescent window.

Suddenly these words flooded my mind: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; who was, and is, and is to come.”

I don’t know for how long I was in the chapel, saying those words over and over again. I said them with many different intonations, from awe and wonder to praise and adoration, and also to a bit of disbelief. “Holy God? You are holy and yet you’re with me here, in this nondescript place? How are you so holy and yet you’re meeting me here so gently?”

When I was a young Christian, I liked my God with a heavy helping of spectacle. I grew up in the charismatic tradition where God did Big Things, but the catch was he only seemed to do them for a couple of weeks in the year and you had to be at this particular Christian festival in order for him to do them.

One of the things I am (slowly!) learning in my walk with God, and which was really made clear to me as I sat in that chapel, was that God’s glory is for the everyday. It is the quotidian spectacle: the extraordinary permeating the ordinary.

There is a paradox in how God reveals himself to us. He does move in the spectacle, in the holiness so bright it is blinding. But he also moves in the everyday, in the humanly comprehensible. This paradox is made abundantly clear in the carol, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

God has come in Christ, he is the heaven-born Prince of Peace and yet “mild he lays his glory by”. God is just as much on the throne as he is on the road to meet us, arms flung wide, waiting for us to turn back to him.

In Advent, we wait for the display of the Word made flesh. In many ways it is a Big Thing – shepherds on the backside of a hill are overwhelmed by a heavenly host; magi from far off lands follow a burning star; there is nothing simple about the miracle of birth, not least the miracle of a virgin birth.

But spectacles are like fireworks: beautiful, impressive and finite. If this was all we waited for, longed for in Advent, then what would be the point?

In theology, we talk about the appearance of God as a theophany. Traditionally, it refers to a visible manifestation of God, along the lines of the burning bush and the pillar of cloud and fire. In Isaiah, the prophet says he “saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne” and that the seraphim around him called out to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah says, “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips…and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Theophany in this context is spectacle; something so amazing, yet an experience which is frustratingly finite.

In Rembrandt’s ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’, there is the theophany-spectacle. In his trademark chiaroscuro technique, the Big Thing of the incarnation is illustrated through the dazzling light of the Christ child; light and life to all he brings. In another signature Rembrandt move, he paints himself into the scene as a shepherd kneeling before the baby with his hands clasped in prayer, his back to us. He has positioned himself this way deliberately, so that we can enter into the scene through this figure. We, too, can be before the Son of God.

The incarnation means we can look God in the eye. It is the gift of grace in the theophany of the ordinary; all the magnificence of the spectacle with the permanence of the everyday. In John’s Gospel, we read of the theophany of the Logos come to earth and then shortly afterwards encounter Jesus at the well, offering an ostracised woman the chance to drink.

In Advent we wait for what we have already received: God with us. God is with us. God is with us! It is incredible and miraculous, and a demonstration of divinity so compassionate and merciful and holy it is near-on impossible to comprehend.

And yet, the event we wait for in Advent, the Word becoming flesh, means we can journey through each day with the knowledge of who God is. It is the theophany of the ordinary; all the spectacle of our holy God with all the love of the God who humbled himself to birth in a stable and death on a cross.

On behalf of all of us at Viva, I wish you a very happy Christmas. May you know the everyday joy of the holy God with us.

***

This is the last in four reflections from Viva for Advent 2017 in a series entitled, ‘Hear the angels sing’. Read the previous reflections here: Advent 1Advent 2, Advent 3

Light Actually

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A sermon on Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 and John 1:6-8, 19-28.

In the beginning of the classic Christmas film Love Actually, Hugh Grant’s character says in a voiceover:

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there… If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that love actually is all around.

It’s a nice sentiment and yet often when I look at the state of the world, it’s hard to feel anything but gloomy. Maybe I’m too much of a pessimist, perhaps I am just a cynic, but I look at the world and I just feel a lot of despair. The UN has declared a humanitarian crisis due to the famine in Yemen, there’s a game of nuclear war chicken being played out via Twitter, homelessness has doubled in the UK in the past two years, on average this year, a woman has died every three days from domestic violence, and these Dreaming Spires of our city mask the fact that 1 in 4 children here live in poverty. As lovely as the saccharine sentiment of Heathrow’s arrivals gate as a conduit of love is, it doesn’t really seem to be enough.

In the face of what feels like unrelenting tragedy and pain and despair, the prophet Isaiah presents us with some simultaneously challenging and inspiring words. He says:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captive and release from darkness for the prisoners…to comfort all who mourn, and…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.

What is this good news the prophet speaks of that we are to proclaim? Well, it is nothing less than the good news this season of Advent points us towards, the good news that a saviour has come for each and every one of us and that saviour’s name is Jesus. It’s unequivocally good news; it’s amazing news! And yet, does it ever feel like a bit of an impossible endeavour to really share this good news?

When I was an undergrad and part of the Christian Union, we used to have a week each year called ‘Events Week.’ And it was called ‘Events Week’ because ‘Missions Week’ was deemed too Christian for the non-Christians we were trying to reach. The week consisted of a series of talks on frequently asked questions about Christianity, with a flashy big name in Christian apologetics brought in to deliver talks challenging enough to convince people to give their lives to Jesus.

And then the rest of the week involved us members of the CU standing in strategic places around campus to hand out flyers for these talks, but we also had to wear luminous yellow hoodies with navy writing on. I really cannot overstate how horrendously yellow this hoodie was. And it was so embarrassing having to wear this hoodie every day for a week. I used to put it on and just cringe and then have person after person after person ignore me as I tried to hand out flyers. Do you know how much effort it takes to deliberately ignore someone who is wearing a hideously yellow hoodie? Not even my flatmates could be persuaded to come to these events and for the rest of the year I had to put up with them asking me why I wasn’t wearing my super attractive yellow hoodie. And my main take away from that week was that I was rubbish at mission, rubbish at proclaiming the good news. And so, I never did another Events Week. Why bother, it’s not like I’d bring anyone to Jesus anyway?

If John the Baptist had been part of my uni CU you just know he would’ve loved the yellow hoodie. He’s just built for that kind of thing. And yet, this passage in the beginning of John’s Gospel tells us some crucial things about him that make his example seem not so unattainable after all. He came as a witness to testify to the light of Jesus, he himself was not the light, he was not the saviour. People are drawn to him because they see something in him, and they mistake him for the messiah because he has the light of God in him. His proclaiming of the good news is not some heady combination of extroversion, charisma, and apologetics training. His proclaiming of the good news is the light of God within him that is spilling out into his everyday life as light which draws people in.

This up-ends everything I believed constituted mission, constituted proclaiming the good news. Because I have the light of Jesus in me, and you have the light of Jesus in you. We began this term looking at this, we are the light of the world. We testify to the ultimate light by being the light in this somewhat gloomy world.

And what does it look like to be this light? Well, it’s in proclaiming the good news by binding up the broken-hearted, comforting those who mourn, and bestowing on hurting people crowns of beauty instead of ashes. It’s in doing for other people, what Christ has done for us. Because we have his light in our gloom, his saving for our poverty, his binding for our hearts, his comfort for our mourning, his crown for our hurt. All we need to do is let that shine through.

How do we do this? Praying for people, taking the time to ask people how they are and genuinely wanting to know the answer, helping at something like the winter night shelter, helping with Café Church, checking in on vulnerable neighbours, to the many great charitable endeavours I know so many people in our church family are a part of.

We’re going to be talking more about Alpha towards the end of this service, and I had the privilege, and I really do mean privilege, of helping to run the Alpha Course we held at the beginning of this year. I say this totally sans-hyperbole, but it was one of the best things I have ever been a part of. And what I loved was how our church family pitched in to help, from making meals, to doing the washing up, to praying for the course – and all that was a great example of proclaiming the good news by the light of God within us spilling out into the world around us through those acts of service.

Let’s be encouraged! To proclaim the good news of our saviour we don’t need some kind of special training or expert skills, we just need to recognise that Christ is in us, that he loves us and has saved us, and let his light within us spill over into our everyday lives.

And if you’re here and you don’t yet know Jesus, but you’re intrigued by him and this light he gives, then you’ve come to the right place to be shown the reality of his good news, so please do come and ask one of us if you want to hear more, because we’d really really love to tell you.

So let’s look at the world: it’s broken, it’s hurting, it’s gloomy. But we’re in it and we have God with us, Christ in us, the Spirit upon us, so if you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that light actually is all around.

 

Hear The Angels Sing: The Dear Christ Enters In

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Part 3 of the Advent series I’ve written for Viva. Take a look at our Christmas Appeal.

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still
The dear Christ enters in.

On Christmas Day 2011, the message of the Gospel was calmly and genially delivered by a octogenarian evangelist and broadcast live across the UK. It was the Queen’s Speech. In it she said:

God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love. In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer: ‘O Holy Child of Bethlehem / Descend to us we pray. / Cast out our sin / And enter in / Be born in us today.’ It is my prayer that on this Christmas Day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

One of the messages of Advent that runs throughout the carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, is that God comes to us, but we have to choose to receive him. His presence is a gift – a wondrous gift – but we have to make the decision to receive it.

In the beginning of John’s Gospel, Christ is described as being the light that shines in the darkness. John the Baptist precedes Jesus and he repeatedly and emphatically denies claims that he is the Messiah. But people wanted to follow him and he had to keep pointing them towards Jesus.

Following the light isn’t always as simple as it sounds, even in the darkness. The hallway light in my house has been broken for several weeks. If my housemate and I were to fix it, then our downstairs would be filled with light. But with just one swipe, we can turn on the torch on our phones and that tiny spot of light can navigate us to where we need to be.

Fixing the light requires working out what kind of bulb it needs, acquiring that bulb, finding something to stand on to reach the light and, if it’s a bayonet fixture, spending a frustrating few minutes trying to get it to stay in whilst yelling about how screw fixtures are superior. Is that stress really worth it for light?

In William Holman Hunt’s ‘The Light of the World’, he depicts the various ways that Christ is light: he carries a lantern, an echo of Psalm 119: 105 and the lantern itself is covered in stars and crescents as a reference to his message of relevance for the whole world. The scene is set at night, a metaphor for our postlapsarian or post-fall of humankind world and not only our need for light but also our refusal to acknowledge that we need the light.

Jesus stands at a door, knocking. When asked about the meaning of this, the artist explained that “the closed door was the obstinately shut mind; the weeds the cumber of daily neglect, the accumulated hindrance of sloth,” and when asked why the door had no outside handle, he replied, it is the door of the human heart, and that can only be opened from the inside.

God comes to us in the most spectacular ways; from the manger to the cross to the road to Emmaus covered in scars. He comes to us, but he won’t enter in unless we ask him to. He comes and we see a bit of the light, but there is always more light to be found when we ask.

At Viva, we cannot achieve things without God’s help or with less of God’s help. We could take his charge to love our neighbour, run with it and do good things with that little bit of light. Or we could let him do extraordinary things through us as vessels of his love and light. It takes patience. It takes perseverance. And it takes a lot of prayer!

After Christmas, we will come to the story of Simeon, the man promised that he would not die without seeing the Messiah. In compline, or night prayer, the Nunc Dimittis or Song of Simeon is always sung: “Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace / Your word has been fulfilled. / My own eyes have seen the salvation / which you have prepared in the sight of every people / A light to reveal you to the nations / and the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon waited patiently; he persevered until he encountered the whole light; and he prayed. In Advent, we wait for God’s coming and he waits for our saying ‘come on in.’

He has come for you; will you let the dear Christ enter in?

This is the third of four reflections from Viva for Advent 2017 in a series entitled, ‘Hear the angels sing’. Click here to read the first and click here to read the second in the series. Look out for the final one published next Sunday.

Hear The Angels Sing: Two Thousand Years Of Wrong

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Part 2 of the Advent series I’ve written for Viva. Please do consider supporting our Christmas Appeal.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

1849:
14,000-15,000 civilians are massacred in Transylvania during the Hungarian Revolution. 96 inmates of an overcrowded workhouse in Ireland die from famine-related conditions, a record high for the Great Famine. The republican government of Sicily is crushed. As part of the ongoing repression of Christianity, Ranavalona I of Madagascar orders four Christians be burnt alive and fourteen others executed.

In the US, still in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, the seeds of discontent are being sewn for what will become the American Civil War. Against this backdrop of strife and violence and suffering, a minister in Wayland, Massachusetts finds melancholy as his muse and writes a poem (we now know as ‘It came upon a midnight clear‘) which is almost a plea to humankind: ‘hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.’

2017:
The UN has warned that the world is facing the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II, with up to 20 million people at risk of starvation in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria.

A terrorist attack targets children at a pop concert in Manchester, killing 22 and injuring over 100. Hurricanes devastate Puerto Rico, causing many deaths and billions of dollars of damage. 58 people are killed and 546 injured in a gun massacre in Las Vegas.

In the space of 24 hours, more than 4.7 million people use #metoo about sexual harassment and assault. A magnitude 7.3 earthquake in Iraq and Iran leaves 530 dead and over 70,000 homeless. An attack at a mosque in Sinai kills 305 and leaves hundreds more wounded.

The world has, indeed, ‘suffered long’. The joyful waiting we endure in Advent for God with us is held in tension that in the birth of Jesus, as soon as the Word is made flesh, the countdown to his death begins. It feels macabre to even contemplate death alongside birth, especially the birth of a baby, and yet we are forced to.

As Mary and Joseph, and the haphazard group of worshippers, celebrate the birth of Jesus, ‘a voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’ (Jer 31: 15)

Maíno’s ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ is an enormous piece of work; it’s physically imposing. At its display in the National Gallery last year, if you sat on the bench in the middle of the room to look at it, you came eye level with a lamb, its feet bound, its final living expression one of anguish. A grieving shepherd holds the lamb’s, his eyes are shut tight, as a final barrier against tears.

It’s an obvious foreshadowing of Christ’s passion. But there is even more meaning to be found in the shepherd and his sheep in the dark beneath the Christ-child with his parents, lit resplendently. But there is also a predominantly hopeful and joyful meaning to that image.

For just as Christ is the lamb upon the throne, so is he also our shepherd. We are wounded sheep, we are at war with each other, two thousand years of wrong treatment of our fellow human beings, and in our pain and in our despair, our good shepherd sees us and holds us to himself. In quieting us with his love, we can again hear the love-song which the angels bring.

God incarnate means we can come as we are: human, fallible, wounded by people and wounding people, comforted by Christ through others and comforting others through Christ in you. We can recognise the pain in the world and know that it is not God’s plan, but we can do something.

For everyone at Viva, from the staff in head office to the networks around the world, the two thousand years of wrong against children are not ignored or dismissed – but we can do something.

We can be that voice or that presence which comforts people, which does not flinch in the face of unrelenting anguish, but holds on. We can stop the cycle of man at war with man, in the myriad contexts that war can be.

So this Advent, hush the noise ye men of strife and hear the angels sing.

***

This is the second of four reflections from Viva for Advent 2017 in a series entitled, ‘Hear the angels sing’. Click here to read the first in the series and look out for more published on the next two Advent Sundays.

Hear The Angels Sing: Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall Come!

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‘Hear The Angels Sing!’ is the Advent series I’ve written for work, which they’re graciously allowing me to cross-post here. You can support Viva’s Christmas Appeal 2017 here.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Advent is a special time of the year. It’s a time of waiting expectantly for what is to come; waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus, this miraculous moment when heaven touched earth and God made his dwelling among us. And then there is the waiting for what is yet to come, the promise we live with that Jesus will come again.

Advent is about our waiting and God’s coming. The Latin adventus is a translation of the Greek word parousia. It’s used 24 times in the New Testament and 16 uses of it refer to the second coming of Christ.

There’s a tension present in our waiting for the Parousia, the certainty of it coming and the uncertainty of when it will come. But the hope the certainty we have engenders, permeates our waiting and expecting far beyond the uncertainty.

In the advent carol ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ that longing for God’s coming is repeated throughout the song. The longing is sometimes out of despair, asking for the Saviour to ‘disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.’

But that longing is always in the context of rejoicing because it will not be in vain: ‘Emmanuel shall come.’ Emmanuel, God with us, is a perennial truth. So be glad, take heart, and rejoice!

We put our hope in the mystery made flesh. In the incarnation, humanity and divinity collide; it is a spectacular and emphatic ‘yes’ proclaimed by God over human beings; ‘yes’, you are my children and ‘yes’, you are my very good creation.

The incarnation speaks of the profound commitment of God to his children.The theologian, Rowan Williams, says of the incarnation:

Jesus of Nazareth is the face of God turned toward us in history, decisively and definitively. All this life is God’s act. The Church did not invent the doctrine of the incarnation: slowly and stumblingly, Christians discovered it. If Jesus is translucent to God in all he does and is, if he is empty so as to pour out the riches of God, if he is the wellspring of life and grace, what then? He is God: in infancy, in death, in eating and drinking, in healing and preaching… He is there for all, because he has made himself God’s ‘space’, God’s room in the world… God and humanity are knotted together there in that space of history.

Human beings matter to God. We need only look to God in Christ so see that is true. It means we have a duty to honour human beings and make the way for those without hope, without the comfort of longing for God with us, to have that certainty-in-mystery.

At Viva, our mission is clear: children matter to God and therefore children matter to us. We wait expectantly for God to ‘make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery’ and yet seek to bring it about now for children at risk, in whatever humanly-limited way we can.

There’s a beautiful painting by an early Netherlandish painter, Geertgen tot Sint, Jans called ‘Nativity at Night’. The painting depicts a tiny baby Jesus as an emanating source of light, with Mary and angels kneeling around him in the foreground, and an angel appearing to shepherds in the background. In the painting, Emmanuel has both come and is coming.

It is the paradox of faith in oil on oak: the now and not yet; the hope and uncertainty. And yet, despite all that we can – we must – rejoice. God has come. God is coming. God will come.

In this Advent season, let us rejoice in our longing, let us wait with joyful expectance, and let us bring about his coming in whatever way we can for the people around us in celebration of the unequivocal divine ‘yes’ to human beings God made manifest beginning in the birth of Jesus.

This is the first of four reflections from Viva for Advent 2017 in a series entitled, ‘Hear the angels sing’. Look out for more published on the next three Advent Sundays. 

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The folks over at Bible Society are running #AdventChallenge – a chance to daily acts of biblically-inspired kindness in the run up to Christmas. In a world where Advent Calendars have become about extravagance, hedonism, and extortionate cost, counting down the Advent days through acts of kindness is a wonderful witness to the light of Christ’s coming.