Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent, a time to learn from the poor

According to the church calendar, as Christians we are currently in the season of Advent. During this time two important traditions of our faith usually come together. First of all we are invited to remember and to celebrate the birth of Jesus with joy and happiness. Yes, there is joy and happiness because His coming, according to the Bible, marks the breaking through of God’s kingdom on earth, the fulfillment of his redemptive and hope giving promise for all humanity. It is indeed as someone wrote, a season of outrageous promise!

Since Jesus’ coming we may therefore start believing, as many did whose lives were touched by His presence and inspired by his words and deeds, that there is hope for tomorrow. Nothing needs to stay the same anymore. In the words of one faithful prayer, all battered souls and bodies can be healed, the hungry can be fed, the imprisoned set free, the weary eyes lifted up and the splendour and dignity of the earth restored.

In and through Jesus we are offered a glimpse of this new world – a world where enemies embrace, criminals are healed and peace and justice may reign. This does give cause for joy and gladness, for exuberant celebration.

But advent – and this is the other side, the second part of our tradition – is also a time of waiting patiently, of watching and praying; it is a time of urgent invocation, of crying to God, of deep longing. Because although we believe that Jesus brought and introduced God’s kingdom to us, we also know that this kingdom has not yet been fully realised, that it is still coming and that the new possibilities it offers are only grasped and experienced in faith. In fact, the promises of God’s kingdom of which Jesus gave us a glimpse, are challenged daily by the harsh and dark realities of our materialistic, greedy and violent world. In such a world we are constantly reminded that we still live between the times – the time of Jesus’ first coming and that time when God Himself will come to live among us… so that there shall be no more death, grief, crying and pain (Revelations 21:3-4).

During advent we are invited not to give up our longing, to keep praying that something of this tremendous vision and dream may be seen and experienced, even if only provisionally. We are offered a glimpse, allowed a soft leap, given an encouraging nudge, an unassailable intuition, a new but firm knowledge.

Being modern people living today, how do we embark on such a prayer? How do modern consumerists like us overcome our insatiable and selfish needs (and moans) for more and change it into a true prayer for justice and peace. Perhaps we should follow Janet Morley’s considered suggestion to learn from the poor and reclaim prayer as desire – real desire for the kind of justice that will make all of us whole. In fact “our very salvation depends on our response to the poor, in whom God waits to be recognised” (Janet Morley).

Carel Anthonissen

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