Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Mission Is a Spirituality of Openness

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Christians have been moving through the season of Advent over the last four weeks. Christmas is now only a few days away, and for those following the Western calendar, New Year's Day follows a week after Christmas. This time in the church's life is about cultivating a spirit of openness - openness to God, to others, and to the future - and this spirit of openness is one that characterizes our participation in God's mission too.

There are many ways that people talk about the work of Advent. It is described as a time of waiting, a time of preparation, of expectation, of hope. Pastors preach on the four traditional Advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love.

One can also talk about Advent as a time of opening - of opening oneself up to prepare to notice and to receive Christ when Christ comes, both in a spiritual sense in the re-enactment of Christ's birth and in an eschatological sense in the anticipation of Christ's return.

We are reminded in Advent, too, the perils of having our hearts closed when Jesus comes. In Las Posadas and other traditions, we are reminded that those whose hearts and doors were closed when Mary and Joseph showed up missed the birth of the Savior. If we would not miss the Incarnation, we must open our doors and hearts to God and to others. "Fling wide the portals of your heart," writes Georg Weissel in the Advent hymn "Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates."

This openness to the coming of Christ of course culminates on Christmas, when it is combined with an opening to one another. For many, the opening of Christmas refers to the opening of Christmas presents - tearing off wrapping paper and emptying boxes. But it's not just about the gifts.

The gifts are, ideally, expressions of love from one to another, and what is really going on at Christmas is opening ourselves up to receive love and to give love in return. This insight can be seen in Dickens' classic "A Christmas Tale," as well as many a made-for-TV Christmas movie: The wounded or selfish person who has closed themselves off to others is transformed by the power of Christmas and becomes willing to love and be loved, even with the vulnerability and risks implied.

This interpersonal interpretation of Christmas openness should not be seen as in contrast to the openness to the divine envisioned in Advent but as deeply related. In Wesleyan theology, love of God and love of others are both aspects of sanctification.

Then comes the New Year, with its look ahead to the future. Whether or not one participates in the tradition of making resolutions, most still look to the new year with a sense of openness. There is a sense that the new year is a time when changes can be made, when things can be shifted. It is a time of open priorities, open schedules, open agendas. That openness won't last, nor should it, but as we observe the New Year, we experience the fluidity of the future.

All of these emphases on openness are a feature of the calendar this time of year, but this emphasis on openness - to the divine, to other people, and to the future - is a feature of mission year round.

Mission is about opening ourselves up to God, initially in our willingness to heed God's call to participate in the missio Dei. Those who answer that call find that they repeatedly encounter God along the path of mission, often in quite surprising ways. Engaging in God's mission is a way of opening ourselves up to God, encountering Christ, and inviting the Holy Spirit in to our hearts.

Mission is also about opening ourselves up to others. Mission is primarily relational. It is about loving and being loved by others in concrete contexts as together we join in the missio Dei. Mission cannot be accomplished alone. It is inherently a practice of partnership. When we join in God's mission, we open ourselves up to the presence of others in our lives that we would not have encountered in any other way. Often, these other people will be quite different from us, but we recognize the love and the blessings that they bring to our lives.

Finally, mission is about opening ourselves up to the future. We may have a sense of where our mission calling will take us, but since mission is primarily about being in relationship with God and with others, we can never control or fully predict where mission will take us. We will be surprised as our openness to God and our openness to others brings new things into our lives that we did not anticipate and could not have foreseen. But we experience this newness as a form of God's good news for our lives.

So, to all the readers of UM & Global, I pray your Advent has been holy, your Christmas may be merry, and your New Year's happy. And I pray that you may be open to all that God's mission will bring us, now and in the days to come.

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