07 December 2012
The people's pregnancy
"At 4 o'clock on Monday afternoon, every office, shop floor, canteen and playground was uplifted, or so the media told us. David Cameron emerged from Downing Street like a mole scenting the dawn, for his Tony Blair royal moment. He said he was 'absolutely delighted', over and again. I swear I saw the ghost of Alastair Campbell murmuring at his shoulder. 'The people's pregnancy'," quips Simon Jenkins.
Leaving aside the Duchess of Cambridge for a moment, 'the people's pregnancy' is an excellent description of advent, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus and we anticipate the return of Christ the King. Our waiting and hoping are set in such a promising context. Mary sings about God's long-awaited, triumphant victory over the forces of sin, evil, and death. He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things.
Her Magnificat alludes to God's desire to make all things new. The scent of dawn indeed.
God's revolution inaugurated in Jesus enacts life-giving peace and justice. His kingdom transforms the present world. It concerns our hearts as well as the economy, budgets and politics. Mary sings her song in the context of a Roman empire, just as the people of God before her had sung the Lord's song in a strange land. And just as centuries later, the slaves sing their spirituals - their subversive emancipation songs about their hope for deliverance. Hope rooted in faith that He will overcome. It calms our fear and calls us on.
The birth account reminds us that God's overcoming reign starts in the way it intends to continue - subversively. Seeds, teenagers, shepherds and stable tell as much. Centuries later, writing from prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflects: "We have learned to see the great events of the history of the world from beneath – from the viewpoint of the useless, the suspect, the abused, the powerless, the oppressed, the despised. In a word, from the viewpoint of the suffering."
The apostle Paul also senses the new dawn: "The night is nearly over; the day is almost here," he says (Romans 13:11). He appeals to the Romans to understand the present time, or kairos – a Greek word that he also uses elsewhere in the letter to portray the "now time" in which God's righteousness is being revealed. It's a time pregnant with the fulfilment of the promise (3:26, 9:9). So, our transformation on the basis of God's word and our vocation to be a living sacrifice are set in a promising timeframe. Everything in life – including our suffering - is seen through the lens of new creation.
The anticipated future provides a model for our identity right now.
Rejecting status, reputation and privilege, Jesus' power was derived from intimacy with the Father and defined by His compassion. That radically shapes our worship of Him. At times the people of God are aware that they seem to be labouring to no purpose, that they are giving birth to wind. They are painfully aware that they have not given salvation to the earth, nor brought life into the world. The prophet Isaiah reminds us, however, that He who formed us in the womb to be His servants, destined us to restore, to bring back, and to be a light. That His salvation may reach to the ends of the earth (26:18, 49:1-6).
So, yes, I do feel a bit pregnant with this story of Immanuel - God with us, Christ in us - whose mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation.
Marijke Hoek, Forum for Change co-ordinator