Rev Katherine Rainger reflects on the ancient and contemporary desire for peace.
What are we longing for?
It is hopeful anticipation and a name for something that is truth but not yet realised.
Daily Reading Luke 2:21-35
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
Ten years ago I got my first tattoo.
I had been married for a few years, I had 2 children, led a thriving youth ministry and I had just gotten back into my social work career. At the same time some things weren’t quite the perfect picture. The simple answers of my early faith were fraying around the edges and many of my friends (and former leaders) were distancing themselves from the christian world. I’d not long lost my younger brother to suicide, my brother in law was diagnosed with cancer that would prove terminal within a few years and my parents separated after 20 years together.
Meanwhile in church Pastors left, another took over, it went better and then rapidly came apart, and the group we led began to suffer too. After another leadership change, I stepped into senior ministry. My family and church were in turmoil. My own faith was, too. Grasping at answers I took up theology study and had a passage tattooed from my favourite book of the Bible. It reads ‘to YHWH’ or “I belong to the LORD” (Isaiah 44:5).
This was the revelation that had saved me once and I hoped it would save me again.
The advent passage for today is from Luke and its theme salvation. Not like the rescue boat kind, but the healing and restoration kind. The setting right of all that has been wrong, equalising and justifying. But the message of this Good News story comes with a twist.
A distinctly devout family is described. Familiar rites are observed. Passages allude to scriptures well known to those receiving the story. It is supposed to invite us to feel right at home. To feel seen and known. Luke’s gospel is the most discerning and pointed in terms of its references to the plight of its early readers, the authors’ Jewish peers. It acknowledges the place where they find themselves: in the midst of turmoil, difficulty and longing for something different.
The message is clear, personal and the gospel writer speaks their language. God who saves has sent his sign of deliverance but in an unlikely turn he offers mercy to “outsiders” too. It’s not an accident that the first of only 2 mentions of salvation for ‘all the world’ in Luke’s account are wrapped up in one of the most distinctly Jewish series of events in Luke’s gospel.
The salvation is set up, named before the child was conceived, revealed in the religious rites. The offering is made and prophets confirm. Yet that revelation comes with an unexpected recognition: that love knows no bounds and salvation comes not for one but so all can be reconciled to God.
This was not at all the kind of salvation they were waiting for. Jesus is usually not the kind of salvation we are looking for. Isn’t the promise to bring about the reign of the God of MY people? (Who ever MY people might be.) It reminds me of a strange passage in Joshua 5 where Joshua encounters an ‘angel of the Lord’ and asks “who’s side are you on, mine or my enemies?” and the angel replies “neither, I am the commander of the Lord’s armies”.
If we are all God’s children then that means our God is our enemies’ God, known or not. Either God is God, in and of all, or what we worship is not God at all. Therein lies the twist of the good news story. That it is Good News. For all.
That first revelation never saved me again the way it did the first time. I have a second text tattooed there now and it leads me daily to salvation. I added it after spending some time in the Middle East. I learnt, saw, prayed and frayed some more. I spent some time back in Australia with Palestinian Christians and Syrian refugee friends.
It says in Arabic “we are all equal in the sight of God”, or “we are all God’s Children”.
It is hopeful anticipation and a name for something that is truth but not yet realised. Similar to how Jesus is named on the 8th day, even though the angels declared it even before conception. Longing looks like choosing to live into this, witness to it even, until it really does look like “we are all equal in the sight of God” or put another way “the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of God”. Glory.
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