Church newsletter article 10.12.17
This will be one of the last newsletters of the year, a year in which the news has been dominated by borders and boundaries: Trump’s promised wall between the US and Mexico and the banning of visitors from Muslim countries, missiles fired across the border from North Korea, the Brexit debate and questions of the nature and location of the border between the UK and the EU, especially the thorny question of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This week the nature of borders and capitals reared its problematic head in the Holy Land too, with the proposed move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the recognition of that as being Israel’s capital city. What does this mean for the Palestinians who find their boundaries being squeezed? It has been a year of us vs. them and who’s in and who’s out. So often the divisions have seemed stark and irreconcilable and the debates and discussions impossible.
Advent seems a good time to reflect on these stories and situations in light of the Christmas Story. This story is all about such questions and debates. Today the Palestinians might feel they are living in an occupied land, then it was the Jews under the Romans. Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem because of the census, a count of the people to see who was in, and by implication who was out. Wisemen come following a star, crossing borders of geography, ethnicity and religion to visit a new king. Can you imagine the response from Herod (picture Trump receiving them…)? The next scene makes it clear, Mary, Joseph and Jesus are fleeing across the border to Egypt to escape the threat of murder.
Who is in and who is out? Who belongs? And who does not? Place the past and the present on top of each other, do they sound that different?
There is another story of boundaries, the boundary between God and us, the wall erected between us and Eden comprised not of brick but our anger, selfishness and suspicion that says we’re doing life our way not yours. This story doesn’t end in firm positions, hard ball negotiation or red lines draw in the ground, but through God sending his son to cross the boundary, to see through our eyes, to walk in our shoes, becoming one of us, entering our world and speaking our lingo, so that in turn we could see and hear and understand his. This is not ultimately a story of us and them or in and out, but a story of reconciliation. My hope and prayer is that next year our story might begin to reflect this story instead…
So famously sung Bob Dylan back in 1964, those words seem very relevant to today. For starters the mornings are starting to get darker and the evenings are drawing in. An autumnal chill is beginning to bite and soon, if not already, the heating will be back on. Talking about this on Sunday morning after the service, I admitted that I love summer, but I also enjoy the moment when the winter jumpers come out for the first time, and the pleasure of drawing the curtains on a winters evening and shutting out the darkness and enjoying the cosiness of home.
This is not the only change, however, there is another deeper, more significant change, that of culture all around us. The ways in which we relate to each other are shifting with the rise of social media and portable technology. The internet is replacing the TV for younger generations, playground discussion is no longer about the programme everyone saw the night before, but the Youtube clip that was shared. Facetime is replacing face to face time. No doubt there will be disagreement over whether these changes are good or not (I’m happy to confess that I’m a lover of technology), but it is clear that things have shifted.
The way we relate to each other is also changing in our politics. It would seem that there is a move away from the middle ground to the left and to the right. Whatever our views on the Brexit vote, we are now faced with the very real question of how we want to be seen by the rest of Europe and the world, and how we are going to relate to those of other nationalities as we redefine our country in light of this decision.
Why should the church be bothered with these things? There was a time when perhaps we wouldn’t be. The Biblical picture of a new heaven and earth was taken to mean that this world was doomed and all that mattered was getting into heaven and saving as many as possible on the way. Recently, however, there has been a waking up to the importance of the life of Jesus as well as his death, and Paul’s teaching on lifestyle as well as the Cross. We’ve rediscovered Jesus’ message that he wants us as members of the future Kingdom to start living that life now, to begin to relate to each other in the present as we will in the future. In other words, his salvation is not just about life after death but life before death too. Key to this are our relationships with each other. Jesus calls us to model what it means to be people of love, of forgiveness, of encouragement and of grace, because this is the basis of our citizenship of God’s Kingdom both in the future and today – it is how we’re made to be and is the best thing for us, so why wait until another age to enjoy this, why not enjoy and share this life today!