Dr Kate Harrison Brennan launches our Advent series with a reflection on Christ interrupting our world in a beautiful, political and dramatic way.
Dr Kate Harrison Brennan is the CEO of Anglican Deaconess Ministries, working to see women flourish in kingdom work.
Today's reading is Micah 4:1-7
As we enter into the season of Advent, we begin to follow, anew, the life of Christ the King, and enter into his political drama. And so we find that the whole earth, and everything in it (from the earthly kings and cities, to neighbours and enemies), have been re-cast.
For many of us, the words of Micah 4:1-7 will be well known, resonating within our cultural imagination. For me, they will always be inscribed on the wall of the Peace Memorial, on the United Nations plaza, that I saw on a trip to New York when I was an undergraduate at law school. The memorial bears the words, found also in Isaiah 2: ‘They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore.’
These words stayed with me (for much of the time, as a postcard on my desk), as I studied international development in Sierra Leone, conducted my PhD research in Ethiopia, close to the border war with Eritrea, and returned to work in New York, directing communications for the Australian Consulate-General.
They are the words of the Lord that came to Isaiah, and to Micah in the 8th century BC: two prophets who hoped and hungered for God to act, and received a vision from the Lord of the future. During the earthly reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (the kings of Judah), Micah received a vision of the coming of the King. The word of the Lord that Micah received was announced in this way: ‘Hear you peoples, all of you, listen, earth and all who live in it’ (1:2).
But could Micah have ever imagined that the vision he and Isaiah received would one day be inscribed on a wall, thousands of years later, and thousands of miles away?
While almost certainly unimagined by the prophets themselves, the inscription and dramatic, political challenge that it poses is in-keeping with what was core to Israel’s longing. The passage not only physically confronts the buildings of the United Nations across the plaza and challenges its power, but it also confronts our frustrations with the way things are. Nations are lifting up sword against nation, and war still schools us, even the children amongst us. When this is the reality, can we affirm common grace, whilst actively waiting for God to act?
The fact that the inscription marks the perimeter of such a tiny parcel of land, that was later named in honour of Ralph Bunche, the first African American to win the Nobel Peace, is a physical reminder of the dent that the gospel and our Christian witness has made on society, and on the laws of the nations. We have international law and covenants, for example, only because earthly rulers recognised that there seemed to be a law that was “above” any individual nation. And the United States had a civil rights movement, in large part, because of the Christian commitments of its activists.
As a “foothold,” the tiny parcel of land in New York, and the scriptural oracle it bears, symbolises the gospel as a challenger within the walls of earthly power. This is the opening to a political drama that breaks into our lives, recasts us all, and throws into relief the status quo.
As citizens of the city of God, we find ourselves, affirming common grace but hoping and hungering for God to act – for Christ to come again. This drama interrupts our world but it is also for our world. This is the unexpected beauty of Christ the King that we allow to be rebirthed in our heart during Advent.
Daily Reading Micah 4:1-7
Peace and Security through Obedience
4 In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
2 and many nations shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
3 He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
4 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
5 For all the peoples walk,
each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
forever and ever.
Restoration Promised after Exile
6 In that day, says the Lord,
I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away,
and those whom I have afflicted.
7 The lame I will make the remnant,
and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
now and forevermore.