This Sunday- the first Sunday in Advent- marks the start of the new church year. The Advent journey to Christmas invites us to remember and anticipate the arrival of Jesus in the world. As many of you would have been doing, over the past month or so we have been spending much time reflecting on the last year and planning for the coming one.
In our commitment to seeing churches actively living out the justice and peace of God, the redemption story in Exodus has been formative over these past few months. The book starts with a people who are oppressed and forgotten, experiencing the apparent absence of God in their lives. God intercepts their story by declaring from the burning bush that Yahweh is the one who has seen, heard and felt their cries. This moment initiates their redemption; a redemption that is spiritual, economic, political and social.
In the face of extreme and systemic injustice and poverty, we often hear the question “But what can I do?”. As a response, it is always important to find ways to place yourself and your church in proximity to the injustice such that you are able to join God in seeing, hearing and feeling the cry of the people. As followers of Jesus, we want God to redeem the lives of those oppressed by injustice but all too often we think we can participate in this work without actually being touched by the lament of the situation.
Jesus, in coming to proclaim salvation, arrives and immerses himself in the lived experience of what it means to be human, experiencing all that we experience. This is the work that Advent calls us to. The work of redemption is activated from this place, and our participation alongside God in the work of redemption in the world requires a similar immersion by us. One way in which this can begin is by creating time to form genuine interdependent friendships with people most impacted by injustice and poverty. To share meals in each other’s homes, to celebrate and lament together, to read the bible together learning from each context and to be vulnerable with each other. This is the burning bush from which God’s call to participate in the work of redemption can most clearly be heard.
Exodus ends with a people not entirely redeemed from their oppression nor yet the fully alive people of God. But they are now a people amongst whom God is tabernacling, a people experiencing the presence of God in their journey. In their redemption journey, there is a move from the absence of God to the presence of God in their lives. In our work as people and churches, we yearn, pray and are formed in such a way that Jesus is present in the midst of our work and of the struggle for justice. I hope that these four weeks of advent will invite you to remember the birth of Jesus and thus start a year marked by God’s presence experienced by you and your church community.