FHL Advent Reflection Dec 2022

‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek’.

Next year I am leading another pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and part of me wonders why.  Each time I go to the Land of the Holy Land I return with at least part of me feeling ‘Never again.  The hurts and the injustices seem so great,  the prospects for peace with justice seem so small’. Yet still I go, partly because I know just how much pilgrimages, with their show of solidarity in the Gospel, mean to the Christian communities there, and what an important contribution to their economy they make too. But there is also something more – a refusal, an inability, to let go of hope.      

Hope is one of the great themes of Advent, but hope accompanied by judgement and warning too.  All three we find echoed in that wonderful song of Mary - the Magnificat - which speaks of God "lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things", while at the same time “scattering the proud in the imaginations of their hearts", “bringing down the mighty from their seat" and “sending the rich away empty".

I find the same note more than once in the Old Testament, for example, in the Book of Job (12/17-25) where we read:

"He leads councillors away stripped, and makes fools of judges

He loses the sash of kings, and binds a waistcloth on their loins.

He leads priests away stripped, and overthrows the mighty...

He makes nations great, then destroys them; he enlarges nations, then leads them away ..."

History in general, and the Old Testament in particular, is full of pictures of individuals, groups, nations, who have misused their God given stewardship of the earth and used it to shape landscapes, nations, communities, in their own interests, without reference to the needs of the poor, the marginalised, the powerless and certainly, without reference to God's concern for peace, justice and the integrity of creation.  One of the most tragic aspects of these pictures is when some who have themselves been poor and persecuted, maltreated and marginalised  - the lowly, the humble and meek – and then have been lifted up,  in turn, seem to become "too big for their boots" and then, in turn, are destined to fall.  

Time and time again we see this in the history of God's people: the Hebrew people themselves.  Their own story tells of how, from slavery in Egypt,  under Moses they were lifted out of bondage and moved towards better things.  Still the underdog, they dispossessed the favoured Canaanites and Philistines.  They unified themselves; they developed the resources and riches of the land; they made a place for themselves in the family of nations.  They developed the arts of literature, and music, and architecture.  Many a foreigner came to lay tribute at their feet.  But then how quickly did the glory of  Solomon fade, and complacency begin to replace the active seeking of the will of God.  The empire vanished, the kingdom divided, the Hebrews were eclipsed and very quickly exile, and servitude beckoned once more.  And so often have we seen in the history of the people of the New Covenant, the Church, just the same.

Yet, another aspect of the Biblical reading of history is that God acts to judge and to redeem, that everyone may have a second chance.  The rich are judged, in order that they may repent and be redeemed.  And that redemption will show itself in their ability to judge the injustice of the world, and in turn reach out to redeem and liberate the poor; to reshape the landscapes of our world in a fundamentally different way. But those who stand in the way of this process get brushed aside, as God stoops to raise the lowly Himself, and uses those who have heeded the summons to enter into the Kingdom to work with him as partners in the offering of compassion and hope.

Among such are organisations like Friends of the Holy Land, themselves partnering with local agencies in Israel and Palestine in their work of "lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things".

I was struck recently by a report of a research programme undertaken by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) in collaboration with Dar al Kalima University in Bethlehem,  during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which revealed that about 300 church-related institutions provide health care, education and social services in the region, serving one-third of the population in Palestine, Christian and Muslim, roughly 2.5 million people. While the Christian community is only 1.5 percent of the population in Palestine, these church-related institutions combined form the third-largest employer in the Holy Land, providing almost 10,000 jobs.

In this season of Advent we look back to the first coming of Christ at Bethlehem, forward to the future when Christ will come again, but also are called to focus on the ‘between time’ - ‘now in the time of this mortal life’ as the BCP Collect for Advent Sunday puts  - when our prayer is constantly to be ‘Marantha Come Lord Jesus’.  Come Lord Jesus that we may learn how to walk with you, not least in the context of the Land of the Holy One, in the work of the Kingdom - "lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things".

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.  BCP Collect for Advent Sunday