We recently spent a day with Stuart Murray-Williams looking at Anabaptist history, theology and spirituality and its possible implications for BMS World Mission. It was a fascinating day, well presented, easy to engage with and highly relevant.
In the middle of the day came one of those nuggets you remember, something that stops you in your tracks. Reflecting on the centrality of the life of Jesus to Anabaptists, Stuart made the observation that the historic creeds of the church so often ignore the everyday life of Jesus.
For example, we are familiar with the line from the creed “…born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate…” to which Stuart added ruefully “the whole of life between birth and death reduced to a comma!”
Pop that in your pipe and smoke it!
The incarnation is about God Immanuel coming to share our life. That life was not simply the preamble to his death, nor just the necessary passage of time that needed to elapse before “the hour has come.” Jesus came not just to die but to show us how to live, and God knows we need help knowing how to live.
Maybe our mission, “should we choose to accept it,” is not to mention the death of Jesus in a Christmas sermon this year. When our message is condensed to “he came to die,” we perpetuate the mistake of the cosmic comma.
Instead, enter into the Advent story and help people imagine how Jesus developed in his mother’s womb, how he grew and began to learn carpentry and Scripture side by side, maybe a playful boy but certainly a thoughtful one. How else would he be able to hold his own with the rabbis in the temple at the age of 12 years?
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Tell people about how later in life he loved to share meals with people, rough diamonds we might say, and how he taught in a way that captivated the masses but alienated those with power.
Find the words to describe the trembling fear of the woman accused of adultery, all of life before her but now screaming with nausea at the vile death that seemed inevitable. Find a way of describing her unbelief at the mercy she found in Jesus.
Take people to the Sermon on the Mount and help them struggle with the command to love your enemies and turn the other cheek. Do it with the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other.
Talk about weddings in places like Cana. Talk about feasts and festivals, about fried fish and fresh bread, and the biblical importance of hospitality.
Advent is about life. It’s about travelling in the winter, having a baby in the frost, wondering about the future, being very poor. It’s about breastfeeding and exhaustion and finding some swaddling clothes for the poor mite in the barn.
It’s about infant cries and mother’s sighs and Joseph feeling inadequate and unsure.
Tell people about the comma! Tell them about life. There’ll be time enough for death.
David Kerrigan is general director of BMS World Mission. This column first appeared on his blog, Thinking Mission, and is used by permission. BMS World Mission was founded in 1792 in Britain as the Baptist Missionary Society.