Tuesday 11 December 2012

To the Laos - To the People of God - Advent 2012

Dear People of God

‘Come, thou long-expected Jesus’ is a well-known Advent hymn which goes on to describe Jesus as ‘hope of all the earth … desire of every nation … joy of every longing heart.’ Advent has been described as a ‘season of desire’. It is a time for us to listen to the yearnings of our hearts, our souls: our profound longing for Jesus to come with the fullness of his redemption, into our lives and the situations around us. It is a time for giving voice, in prayer, to the ache we feel for every person, every circumstance, which needs the compassionate, loving, healing, touch of our Lord and Saviour. It is also a time for giving thanks for all that we have seen of God at work in our lives, and fervently asking that he may be present in ever greater abundance.

I have been pondering this, particularly as I look back on November, which was a truly remarkable month, diverse and full. When it began, I was in New Zealand, participating in the Anglican Consultative Council, with other Anglicans, nearly bishops, clergy and laity from around the world. We shared deeply together around all aspects of the Anglican Communion’s ministry and mission – often from very different perspectives, but in a way that I felt was healing to relationships. Please pray that it may be a turning point for moving ahead united in Christ, even where we do not wholly agree; and especially that the ‘Continuing Indaba’ and ‘Bible in the life of the Church’ projects will keep on bearing fruit. Please pray too for God to further guide and bless major issues which we tackled: the environment; violence especially against women and children, and churches as places of safety; and Christian witness in a multi-religious world. There is much here that we can pick up on, to enrich our own lives, and equip us in our own calling to be faithful witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ. You can find out more through the links at www.anglicancommunion.org

It was the last Anglican gathering with our beloved Archbishop Rowan before he steps down and returns to academic life. My heart was full to overflowing – and so were many others – as he gave his final address to us. We give thanks for his remarkable servant ministry over the difficult times of the last decade, and ask God to bless him, his wife Jane and family, in their move, and to continue to make him a blessing to so many others. In the same vein, we thank God for Bishop Justin Welby, who will succeed him in the new year, and pray for him, together with his wife Caroline and their family, as he prepares to take on the great responsibilities that lie ahead. I am reminded of the ‘Charge’ in our service of ordination and consecration of a bishop, which says ‘No one is sufficient for these things’ but then says ‘May the God who makes us able ministers of his new covenant equip you with grace and give you his blessing and joy.’ This is surely what we long for, for the new ‘ABC’.

And I am sure it is our prayer also for our newest Bishop in Southern Africa, Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya, whom we consecrated in Swaziland with such joy on 17 November – the first Anglican woman in Africa to be made a Bishop! We rejoice with her and her diocese, and ask the ‘long-expected Jesus’ truly to be ‘Emmanuel’, God with her, and her clergy and people, as they go forward into this new chapter of life. We pray also for The Ven. Margaret Vertue, who will be consecrated Bishop of False Bay on 19 January; and the Revd Dintoe Stephen Letloenyane and Revd Stephen Moreo, who will be consecrated Bishop of the Free State and Bishop of Johannesburg, respectively, in two services in March.

As we thank God for, and pray for, those he calls forth as leaders, shepherd of his flock, in every generation, let us also pray for the Church of England, so traumatised by their long synodical processes around the consecration of women to the episcopate, and the failure of last month’s vote. May God give them light in their darkness (a powerful Advent theme), to show them his path ahead.

For our part, we are moving forward on the path we believe God has set before us, the path of our Vision, ‘Anglicans ACT’, which we celebrated in a service in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town at the end of November. You can watch it on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5-9b7tWFFw, and copies are being made available via Dioceses on DVD. The various teams are making progress in their work – watch this space in the new year, as plans unfold for helping equip dioceses and parishes in our priority areas!

So, within the life of our church, at home, and globally, we have much to thank God for, even as we desire to grow more into the newness of life that is his promise. But when we turn our eyes to look at the world around, our yearning for God’s redemptive touch becomes much more urgent. In South Africa, we have had the tragedy of Marikana, now being investigated through the Commission of Inquiry headed by Judge Ian Farlam who is ACSA’s chancellor. All involved need our prayers. There is also the complex situation around farm workers’ salaries in the Western Cape, where we yearn for just living wages. We also anticipate the ANC conference in Mangaung from 16 to 21 December. With a vote on the ANC’s, and hence the country’s, presidency, it is of major importance to our future, and our ability overcome trends of corruption and self-interest among political leaders, and return to putting the needs of all citizens at the top of the agenda. Elsewhere around our Province, countries battle with consolidating democracy, with food shortages, with wise use of mineral resources, with the scourge of HIV and AIDS, and with the ongoing long slow struggle to overcome poverty and all its consequences.

Therefore, especially for those in South Africa for whom 16 December is the Day of Reconciliation, I am calling for a day of prayer and fasting. Let us not be afraid to pour out our hearts to God – bringing before him all our hopes and fears for our countries, all our yearnings and desires for his kingdom to come and his will be done among us. In Advent we look forward to God’s promise to reconcile all things in Christ to himself (Col 1:20); and we also recall how he has entrusted his ministry of reconciliation to us also – so let us make this a day truly of God’s Reconciliation.

Let us plead that we may know the fuller coming of Christ, ‘risen with healing in his wings’ within our nations and our communities, especially where there are divisions – whether of history, politics, economics, language or race, personality, or through some unhappy force of circumstance. Let us pray fervently that God will meet us in all our needs, in Jesus Christ, so that there may be good news for the poor, freedom for the oppressed, liberty for all who are afflicted (Lk 4:18). May those who walk in darkness find a new light dawning (Is 9:2), and may all of us have the wisdom, the courage, the commitment, to walk in the paths God lights before our feet (Ps119:104). May justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24), and may God’s kingdom be found among us.

This Advent-tide, let us wholeheartedly pray for Jesus Christ to come to us, ‘Come, O come, Emmanuel!’

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town