‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’
Excuse me for starting my thoughts for this weekend with a line from the carol O little town of Bethlehem. I can only blame team planning for Christmas that’s been happening over the past couple of weeks!
But seriously how can the hopes and the fears of all different people across all the years be met in the person of Jesus? Isn’t this the most ludicrous statement, and yet if true, isn’t it the most enabling and freeing truth in the world!
This particular melodious line is an earworm. I’d like to suggest that as we reflect on what the carol says about Jesus, we find an antidote to the fear driven divisions and sense of hopelessness that we see playing out in our wider society and especially in America post the election.
Listening to a podcast by John Mark Comer, he says that in America, on the right and on the left, people are arming themselves due to the fear of not being in control. It is perhaps a byproduct of humanity that as we develop ‘lifestyle enclaves’ and as we enjoy the company of those who are similar to us, we can start to fear and distrust the other. The US is a very divided country and the rise in gun sales indicates a worrying unease. Sadly none of this is new.
As a church leader I do not want this reflection to be in any way politically slanted. I remember saying quite early on to someone in the benefice that my public role seeks to unite and signpost to God’s ways, and in this sense I remain apolitical. So let me focus on a passage from John’s gospel for some pointers.
In John chapter 18 Jesus is taken to Pilate to stand trial before his death. The religious leaders in Jerusalem feared Jesus and the effect he was having on their people. Pilate questions Jesus using language, full of spin and he tries to trick Jesus into compromise; and yet Jesus proves something of a conversational ninja! Instead of being drawn on division, in verse 36 Jesus indicates why the hopes and fears from across time itself can find fulfilment in him alone:
Jesus answered, ‘my kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’
Let’s sit with this idea for a little. Politically if you will Jesus tells Pilate that he belongs to another kingdom without geographical borders. Time and time again, through the pages of the New Testament Jesus teaches that the truth of living under his righteous rule has to do with peace, non-violence and unity across politics, economics, gender, sexuality and ethnicity.
Jesus walks a pathway of peace and this was very alien to Pilate’s worldview, as it is to a lesser extent to ours. However Jesus wants us to know that true freedom lies in following him. Of course we need God’s help, because it is really challenging to act differently in a world of division!
This message drives home when we think smaller - so not so much national politics but how about doing life as a church family. How do we disagree well? How do we put other’s needs before our own? How do we keep our focus united on sharing God’s best for our wider communities, and for our congregations? With God’s help and as we live out our faith we will learn reconciliation as we choose to love our enemies, uproot contempt from our inner voice and as we grow into people who forgive one another. A week on from Remembrance, I hope this is food for thought.