Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Mission Theologian in Residence at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Rev. Dr. Sahabandhu's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.
God has called us to partake in another Advent and to prepare our communities for a New Year.
The season of Advent, which comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming” or “visit," begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year for Christians. In fact, theologically speaking, this special “coming of God” is the basis of evangelization, mission and witness.
During Advent, we prepare for, and anticipate, the coming of Christ. We remember the longing for a Messiah and our own longing for, and need of, forgiveness, salvation and a new beginning. In other words, we reflect on God’s visit to God’s people through Christ.
Celebrating God’s visit as a mission to the universe has a significant impact on mission implications of the church. Let me offer four insights:
Recalling the message of John the Baptist as the forerunner of the gospel will help us to take the right turn and change. This was a pre-evangelization. Pre-evangelization is essential for transformation.
“The voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all humankind will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3: 4-6)
“Repent, for the Reign of God is near.” (Matthew 3:2).
John’s preparations were essential for the mission of God. It was a mission to the mission; mission for the mission.
Is the church ready to take on John the Baptist’s mission as the ‘prophetic forerunner’ of the Gospel and apply that in today’s context?
Is the church prepared to take risks for the sake of the Gospel?
Are Christians discerning what areas of life are still in need of pre-evangelization?
This discerning required reading the “signs of the time” and good hermeneutics of the same to respond meaningfully and critically; how do we do that while ourselves, our own church being transformed? This is a contemporary challenge.
In the simplest sense, the power and the demand of the message is clear – if we are to receive the coming Lord, we need to repent through Advent as individuals, as families, as church communities and as a society.
2. Mystery of Incarnation: The Word became Flesh
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1: 14). The Word is Jesus. He was born in a humble stable in Bethlehem. He grew up in Nazareth of Galilee, he died in Golgotha and he has risen from the dead.
God became a human person by messing in the mess of the people and chaos of the world. God made his tent/slum among us, among God’s own creation. A mission of incarnation means sharing the real sweat and struggles, pains and agonies, hopes and dreams of the whole creation.
The Word – Dabar/Logos – is the “burden” of the heart of God, and that ‘living burden’ became matter and energy by indwelling in life. This is the ‘mystery of Incarnation’.
If the church is the ‘continuation of Christ’ in the world, it should have an incarnational presence, incarnational spirituality, incarnational mission and incarnational witness.
This will challenge our pseudo-Christian lifestyles, triumphalist and feel-good mission theologies and mission practices. This will challenge our attitude to power and prestige.
Are the churches ready to assess our missional models and get back to Gospel-centered incarnational mission models? Are we ready to evaluate what is contrary to and hinders the church in taking an incarnational approach to mission?
Are we ready to be challenged by incarnational insights from the margins of the society?
We are living in a busy world of commercialization, greed for power and mammon and severe environmental crisis. Incarnation is a much more relevant topic as I see it today in our theological reshaping for missional praxis.
3. The Light challenges us to “Be the Light”
John sees the mystery as the Light who is Jesus and who became most vulnerable while yet enlightening the whole cosmos. “The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. The true light that gives light to every person was coming into the world” (John 1: 5, 9).
John developed his thoughts based on creation story in Genesis. The Hebrew word for light, or, is similar to the Hebrew word for awake, orr. Light calls all matter to awaken and unfold. The incarnate Word is in a mission of awakening all matter and energy.
Our call is also clear here – those who receive Jesus and believe in his name will become the children of Light and children of God and thereby continue to partake in God’s transformative mission of awakening, enlightening and sharing the warmth of God’s love.
Are the churches prepared to take the challenge of Jesus Christ who came in a mission to the world as the light of the world? That call came very direct when Jesus said, “You are the Light of the World” (Mathew 5:14).
4. Parousia: “Christ will come Again”
Any advent refection would be incomplete without reference to the Lord’s coming again. This we find in Eucharistic prayer as we proclaim the mystery of faith (Great Thanksgiving)
‘Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again’
Advent is a time of hope. All that we experience will come to pass. Because the Lord will come again to this world to judge the living and the dead, the Lord will judge the people and the whole creation with restorative divine justice. There will be a new creation.
The church is called here to partake in God’s restorative justice mission; the church is called to practice restorative justice in her own life and play an active part in restorative justice in the wider global society where reconciliation and reconstruction is much needed.
Secondly, the church is to reenergize our hope and faith in God’s new creation; meaning that all what we do as a church and as Christians are related to and connected with God’s new creation. “I will make everything new” (Revelation 21:5). Advent is a missional orientation for the new heaven and new earth.
It’s time for the mission of the church to recapture the prayer of the apostolic church – Maranatha! Come Lord!