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Epiphany: a process

Once Hogmanay is over (or, depending on your “bah, humbug” factor, maybe even earlier), the celebration of Christmas easily starts to feel dead and buried.

However, fellow-sufferers of the “January blues” may care to join me in reflecting instead on Epiphany, in which some solace is to be found. Although it’s primarily marked on 6th January, it goes goes on being celebrated in the Anglican church’s calender for 4 Sundays.

Epiphany translates, roughly, as “revealing”. It’s about God revealing himself to us, and at this time of year we’re encouraged to reflect on the way in which Jesus’ coming heralded salvation for “outsiders” as well as Jews. We remember how the Magi recognised, gave gifts to and worshipped the Christ child.

What, though, was their experience like? Not a “moment” I think. Rather, in their story we see God’s revelation to humans as a journey.

Matthew (chapter 2) recounts that wise men travelled to Jerusalem having seen a bright star. These were Magi: learned advisors, men to whom others looked for guidance, wisdom and discernment. On Jesus’ birth, they looked into the sky and saw something extraordinary: a star that wasn’t normally there, which didn’t fit the map of the skies they knew.  Perhaps they knew something of Jewish culture, that a Messiah was predicted to come. Maybe they had even read Jewish scripture and had it suggested that a star would star signalling his arrival. But these were Gentile men, not Jews. Even if they knew what the Jews believed, why would they take off on a journey to search out a God who wasn’t theirs?

We don’t know the ins and outs of it, but it something pretty powerful must have  motivated men to leave their homes and travel at short notice to Jerusalem. Think about it – setting out on a journey because you saw a star?!  The story goes even further. Not only did they make a physical pilgrimage, but somehow, somewhere along the way they became convinced that what they were seeking was something with more than physical significance. “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” they said. “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  They wanted to worship. Their journey had became spiritual.

The Magi who arrive in Jerusalem are changed people; not men who changed themselves, for there is no suggestion they had become, or sought to become, Jews. Rather, they are a people who have been changed. They are thirsty for God – a God who seems already to have revealed something of himself to them, and who invites them to follow his lead. So they continue to seek after him, following the unlikely leading of a star, and in time, after yet more journeying, they find him. A defenseless baby.

In Jesus, God is revealed. In the most unlikely form, in the most unlikely place, by the most unlikely means. Their epiphany – and maybe ours – is not only a moment, but rather it is also a mysterious, time consuming, captivating process.

Trudging through the January blues, let’s remember that we journey with God, and that as we follow his lead, he shows up where we least expect to find him.

Jesus killed my political apathy

Politics. The mere presence of the header was enough. My right forefinger twitched: “click”. Previous page, please. I don’t want to read political garbage. Life’s too short. I’m not interested in stupid games.

That’s how I used to approach things: apathetic.

It’s not that I didn’t care about the world: homelessness, poverty, famine, the environment, war. But  these are huge, complex problems, aren’t they? I doubted they could be solved. I doubted that politicians could see beyond their personal career aspirations to want to solve them. Therefore engaging with politics seemed pointless. I was busy enough, after all, taking care of my own happiness: building a career, financial security and success. Other people and “bigger” issues came second.

Perhaps that sounds callous. Or maybe you and I have a common thread of experience.

Now fast forward 3 years. It’s 2010.

Things have changed – or at least have started changing. Now don’t get me wrong; I don’t excitedly leap out of bed each morning to scour the headlines for the latest political heist, and I don’t much care about whether Gordon Brown or David Cameron is having the better week. Nevertheless, issues that politicians get involved in catch my attention now. Why?

My faith has started to have an impact on this part, as on other parts, of my life. There are over 8000 verses in the New Testament. At least 718 of them deal with issues of poverty and justice. That’s nearly 10% of the whole thing, and the proportion is similar when you include Old Testament references. Jesus is recorded as talking about these issues at on at least 290 different occasions (The Poverty and Justice Bible). Perhaps, then, it’s unsurprising that as I read more about God’s plan for the world, what he’s doing in it, I find myself challenged to get involved.

Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

That’s what Jesus did – not by becoming an MP or a high flying executive, but instead by understanding the political world around him and then engaging it in God’s way, on God’s terms. His actions were both profoundly political and profoundly simple. He got stuck right in, loving people without compromise and refusing to allow love’s expression to be limited by state politics. It was a love so radical as to see him tortured and killed.

As I look at pictures of the injured and bereaved of Haiti, I don’t know what to do to help.  I’m disappointed with myself for my lack of knowledge of these peoples’ plight; with my lack of concern about how they might be helped; for my lack of knowledge about the political system of which I’m a part. I’m frustrated: as I read of responses by governments and charities, the power of nations like the USA and the UK over Haiti is obvious, and though there’s huge potential to help, there are even bigger questions about how best to do so, and a huge risk of entrapment for the Haitians of the future if the wrong approach is adopted.

Do we really know the best ways to go about helping Haiti in the long term? Of seeing the Haitians liberated?  And do we honestly desire to identify them? Naomi Klein spells out the dangers. Bill Quigley suggests positive actions.

I have no idea exactly how the biblical principles I believe should be worked out in the world in this instance. Politics are so complicated. Thank God for the aid agencies working round the clock to bring relief, for the people who have chosen to give sacrificially of themselves to help.

Even while I’m so aware of my inadequacy, though, I see that something has changed in me. I thank God that he gives me a desire, nowadays, to love others: that I am affected by these events in a way I never was “before”, so that thoughts translate into action. I thank him that he loves the people of Haiti as he loves me, and that we have an opportunity to see positive change start as the Hatian people, over the enxt months and years, begin to rebuild.

So here’s my resolve: to get informed, at least a little, and take an interest, armed with what little knowledge I glean, in the actions of my state and of NGO’s. Which means that even I, the most apathetic non-politician I ever knew, am going to have to engage.

How about you?


hat tip: Asbo Jesus

Pat Robertson & Haiti

It’s 24 hours since unmitigated disaster struck Haiti. Their biggest earthquake for over 2 centuries, and the latest in a line of disasters that have left them devastated.

I could hardly believe the comments made by Pat Robertson.  Words fail me. Fortunately they don’t fail Don Miller, in whose capable hands I’ll leave this simple response:

An appropriate response to Haiti:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in..”

An appropriate response to Pat Robertson:

“You seem angry and tired. Christ loves you. He is not impressed with your religious posturing. He really loves you. You don’t have to hide behind anything anymore. The good news really is that good.”

For my part I’ll  do my bit, however tiny, by giving and also by praying for the God of love and hope to hold the people of Haiti close. I’ll also be praying for understanding of how it is that the God whom we trust to love us could let this happen, and how we should respond, both now and in the long term (how can it be right for any state to have been in such a mess even before this happened?)… I can’t help but feel we all bear an element of responsibility as fellow humans.

Yet again, I don’t get how God works. But then there’s nothing very new about that.

Marked

Fast-paced, terrifying… this graphic re-imagination of the gospel of Mark in a contemporary fictional setting is clever and deep. The people are blinded and demon-possessed. Jesus can change them, but they don’t, for the most part, have the eyes to see.

It could almost be real life (ironic, eh?). And therein lies the skill with which Ross retells the gospel story, albeit in a way you might not, at first, recognise.

The preface cautions that pictures often denude a text. If you have the opposite problem when it comes to the Bible, finding it hard to get a sense of the power and the challenge of the person of Jesus from traditional translations, or if you need reminding about what it must have been like to have him burst into the first century cultural setting, then this might just be a good place for you to start.

Loved it.

Wise words for Spin Doctors?

Alastair Campbell doesn’t “do” God. However, Blogging about his appearance yesterday at the Iraq Inquiry, he says:

Among the private messages I got in advance were some from former Iraqi exiles I mentioned in my evidence, some of whom are now back in Iraq and say despite all the problems their country without Saddam is a better place and one where democracy is beginning alongside, by their standards, normal life.

I am amazed too how many people, though they know I don’t do God, sent me passages from the Bible. As I walked through the media scrum on the way in, and on the way out, and listened to some of the overblown and agenda driven commentary, I was glad to have read in the morning an email with Psalm 56 attached … ‘What can mortal man do to me?’ it asks ‘All day long they twist my words, they are always plotting to harm me. They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, eager to take my life…’ I never detected a death plot among the British media, but the rest of it sums up the Westminster lobby to a tee.

And no, I’m still not doing God, but as Neil Kinnock once said to me, I sometimes think it’s a shame we’re atheists, because some of the best lines are in the good book.

It seems even spin doctors find comfort in the Bible. Campbell might not believe in God, but it seems maybe God still believes in him…

hat tip: Church Mouse

An American messed with my head…

Shane Claiborne’s first book, The Irresistible Revolution, messed with my head. I don’t agree with his every word, but this man talks a lot of sense about faith. Here’s a letter he wrote at the invitation of Esquire magazine, to people who don’t share his faith: Letter to Unbelievers.