Faith Today Magazine Canada
January/February 2008 Issue
THE GATHERING PLACE:Living In-Between
By Bruce J. Clemenger
We are now between Christmas and Easter, between our celebration of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ – perfect God and perfect man – and our commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ, the basis of our redemption and reconciliation with God and our new life in Christ.
I felt that “in-between” recently when I visited a church in Nazareth. I was travelling with a group to Israel and the West Bank to meet Christian leaders and see some of the work being conducted among Palestinians by our host, World Vision.
The church we visited in Nazareth is built over the well that was used by the women of Nazareth in the first century. This well is likely one that Mary used on a daily basis. Perhaps this was even the place where the angel appeared to tell her of God’s plan for her, for humanity and for all creation.
In this place of the Incarnation, where Mary became pregnant with the Christ child, Palestinian Christians have borne witness to the gospel through times of peace and turmoil since their first-century ancestors. It is a land that has been fought over and forgotten – the small strip of land to which God sent His Son to dwell among us.
Forgotten is how today’s Palestinian Christians feel – forgotten by the world and particularly by other Christians.
Yet we can learn much from the believers in Nazareth today if we watch how they work co-operatively and diligently and give witness to the gospel amid a regional Muslim majority and within the State of Israel.
They know how to live in between, to relate to Muslims, to live with adversity (Israel’s policies make life difficult for Palestinians) and to relate to other Christians who believe differently about God’s covenant and the Holy Land.
They can teach us about showing respect and seeking reconciliation in the middle of strong disagreements. In fact, their thinking and passion for reconciliation remind me of evangelical aboriginals in North America.
Among these Christians it is evident that incarnational living, working out the full meaning of our salvation, includes theology and practice, and extends to all aspects of life.
What did Mary think the Incarnation meant? She said: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors” (Luke 1:52-55a). Palestinians are also descendants of Abraham.
Often we tend to interpret Mary’s Magnificat as speaking to a faith dimension only and not pertaining to the material world. Yet this is where the theologies of the land advanced by the various descendants of Abraham agree, both by those who believe God’s covenant with the Jewish people remains and extends to the possession of the land and by those who believe the promises about the release from oppression and about justice for those who have been displaced from their historic lands.
Both agree the Bible speaks to all of life: the promises of God extend to the material and to the present.
The Incarnation is about the redemption, reconciliation and restoration God offers to us. The Incarnation has direct application today.
In this in between time, when God’s Kingdom has come but is not fully come, we are to be people and communities that reflect, advocate and manifest God’s reign in our lives.
That reign has implications for how we think and act in the world and for our treatment of others. Christ is in us and works though us to accomplish the purposes of God through the power of the Spirit. We are His body: the hands, feet and voice of Christ in the world.
Through the empowering of the Spirit and in submission to Christ, we are to express our love for God and our neighbours as persons and in community, bearing witness in word and deed.
This includes the hard work of wrestling together about the implications of our faith in the real politics of nations and peoples. Redemption has implications for both “rulers” and “the humble,” and will “fill the hungry with good things.”
Bruce J. Clemenger is the president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.