Advent greetings to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The season of Advent, one of the oldest observed Christian seasons, is upon us. This season calls us to become aware of two great tensions: The Lord Jesus has come into the world, and He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. These two great tensions describe the hope and anticipation of faithful followers of Jesus for two-thousand years. My prayer is that we will live faithfully in this tension between these “two Advents.”
First, we know redemption has come. The Apostle John says,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
1 John 1:1-2
Consider the impact as they saw the Word of Life. They beheld his glory. These disciples saw him. They walked with him and talked with him. They watched him live and die. They watched his resurrection and ascension. And his singularly glorious life has eternally changed the direction of humanity and the cosmos. What an amazing reality that we proclaim! One of the most profound verses in all of Scripture says,
The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Second, while we believe the testimony of the faithful, we also know that the world is not fully restored. Our hearts cannot help themselves. We see tragedy, death, disease, injustice, poverty, racism, and violence and it causes us to wonder like the saints in the Book of Revelation “How long O Lord?” We recognize the ravages of the Coronavirus. We see the pain of hatred and oppression. For some of us, we know all too well the damage of addictions suffered by loved ones and families. While some would say the reality of evil and suffering is a cause to not believe the Christian message, we through faith, love, and theological reflection, counter that Christ’s first and second coming mark the end of “sin and error pining.” In Jesus Christ everything is changed! As the French poet Placide Cappeau wrote in 1843, and which we sing at Christmas, “the weary world rejoices” because of the coming of Jesus. Suffering and evil do exist and through the power of the Cross and the presence of the Holy Spirit, it can be quarantined. But one day all evil and suffering will be banished – forever!
In the Anglican Communion, we hope to see the restoration so pleaded for in the Scriptures,
Restore our fortunes, LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
This is the cry of our hearts. We lament the fractured church, and division between the followers of Jesus. We grieve for those in Australia, Wales, and England who have recently determined they will now embrace teaching which contradicts the clear laws of God. For we too, long for a unified, Christ-centered, orthodox, and missionary Church. We long for the impairment of broken promises, failed leadership, and relational walls to come down. We long for the Anglican Communion to be strong in Christ Jesus and abiding by the Scriptures. We don’t long for the glory days, but rather we long and wait for the Lord, as J.R. R. Tolkien quipped, to make all the sad things come untrue.
The irony of the Faith is that we wait. We wait for restoration. But our waiting is not without action. The most important activity of a waiting church is repentance – turning from our known sins and disobedience to God’s Word and walking from this day forward in holiness and righteous living in Him. In his great work, God is in the Manger: Reflections of Advent and Christmas, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says,
God can make a new beginning with people whenever God pleases, but not people with God. Therefore, people cannot make a new beginning at all; they can only pray for one. Where people are on their own and live by their own devices, there is only the old, the past.
This is why repentance is crucial. We don’t restart things, but we cry out with tears of sorrow for the broken things in our Communion and our world, and broken people suffering without Jesus to be restored. We repent and find in ourselves our own culpability and sin. And like a marching soldier, we turn the other way. The Greek word is “metanoia.” It means to change one’s mind. This is why the Apostle Paul tells the Romans (and us as well),
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Our act of repentance renews our minds to understand what the Lord desires and what his plans for his people are.
The work of Gafcon is both waiting and acting. We wait for the Lord’s will, and then we move forward in faith. Missiologists tells us that one third of the world identifies with the person of Jesus Christ and the Church. What about the other four and a half billion people? Our commitment in the Jerusalem Declaration (Article 7) is to
gladly accept the Great Commission of the risen Lord to make disciples of all nations, to seek those who do not know Christ and to baptize, teach and bring new believers to maturity.
We wait but we don’t retire. We repent, so we
may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Repentance leads us to see the world, and its problem is in great need of the Gospel. I once heard an American bishop say this in a presentation,
Hell is hot. Time is short. The stakes are high.
Repentance cultivates a love for the last, the lost, and the least before it is too late, and the second Advent is upon us. So, as we wait and as we actively repent, let us be about the work of the Gospel moving forward in the power of the Holy Spirit to reach our world for Jesus Christ.
Along with all the other Gafcon Primates, I would treasure your prayers for us. Pray that we will walk in full repentance. Pray that Christ will be our greatest pursuit. But most of all, pray that what we do, what we will, how we serve, and the way we do it all is pleasing in God’s sight.
A very blessed Advent to you,
The Most Rev. Dr. Foley Beach
Chairman, Gafcon Primates Council