Monday, November 30, 2009

It's Advent Again

Advent - the start of the church's year, comprising four Sundays before Christmas - is upon us.  'Advent' means 'coming', and refers to the coming of the Messiah, both his first coming in the incarnation, and his return.   These are the first and second Advents.
The service readings set for this season do two things.
On the one hand they take us back to the prophets, to Isaiah, Malachi, Jeremiah, standing with Israel looking forward to her redemption.  The call is to get ready, to prepare for the Day of the Lord, when he will visit and rescue his people.  This is a time of both  liberation and retribution, a season of great joy, and also the most painful regret over sin unrepented.
On the other hand, the set readings take us to Jesus' announcements of future judgment, when he tells of his return as judge, to complete the inauguration of the Kingdom of God.  His reflections are full of foreboding and concern lest his listeners be found unready on that great and terrible day.  These tie back into the prophets, as their culmination.
In Advent the church looks forward to the incarnation – to the first coming of the Messiah –  as if standing with Israel centuries BC,  but the key energy in the season of Advent,  the great power which speaks from the readings, is a focus on his Second Coming.  The  sense of anticipation originates with the Hebrew prophets, and flows through the gospels towards God's future for the world.
The thing is, the Christian church in the West today seems to find it a lot easier to focus on the incarnation and Christmas during Advent, than on  the Second Coming and future judgement.  So Advent gets subverted into a kind of pre-Christmas shopping, cooking frenzy, instead of a season of fasting, self-examination, repentence and solemn reflection, which is where a focus on the Second Coming leads us.  What we end up with is a truncated, frozen-in-time perspective on God's saving plan,  held in suspended animation somewhere near Bethlehem.  It is good - indeed essential - to remember, to reflect deeply on the incarnation, but the amazing event of the birth of the Messiah is a signpost into God's future, to his saving intentions for the whole world.  For this season, let our focus be to look forward at this time, towards Christ's Second Advent.  Let us get our hearts ready, not simply to celebrate Christmas, but to await his Second Coming.  The real question for each heart who follows Christ in this season is not 'Am I ready for  Christmas, celebrating Christ's First Coming' but 'Am I ready for his Second Coming.'

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Seed Sown Bears Much Fruit

While I was in Korea recently, speaking on the contribution of St Mary’s to the Korean church, I had a memorable conversation about mission. This was at a Presbyterian church in Busan founded by Australians, where they have a memorial in the grounds dedicated to J.H. Davies. I pointed out that five young missionaries who went from St Mary’s—including Davies—lost their lives soon after reaching their field of work: two from sickness in India and Korea, and three from violence in China.

At the time St Mary’s vicar, HB Macartney, was criticized by the press for sending these young people as if to their deaths. Even in St Mary’s Jubilee booklet of 1908 there was relatively little attention given to these five, and no mention of the three China martyrs at all. It was almost as though this sacrifice was not something to honor.

How different was the reaction of the congregation to the loss of lives in World War I: the magnificent plaque set up on the back wall records their names for perpetuity. Yet from the perspective of the Koreans, J.H. Davies’ mission to Korea was a remarkable success. Over twelve million Korean Christians today are testimony to the fruitfulness of his vision, as many others were inspired by Davies’ example to follow in his footsteps.

The lives of the five young missionaries from St Mary’s were sown deep into the fertile soils of India, China and Korea, and even today they continue to bear a plentiful harvest for the Kingdom. My heart is grieved that people in Melbourne may have regarded the loss of these lives as a mistake.

Jesus said “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:23-25)

Monday, November 2, 2009

New Blog and a New Site

I'm reorganizing my blogging. From now on I'll be using this Vicar's blog for issues related to St Mary's, life as a Christian in Melbourne and anything which might be of interest to friends of St Mary's Caulfield.

For issues to do with responding to Islam, and other more general issues, I'll be using

For links to all my blogs, and information on my books, articles etc, visit