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Unity In Christ
O church of God, united to serve one common Lord,proclaim to all one message, with hearts in glad accord.Christ ever goes before us;we follow day by day with strong and eager footsteps along the upward way.
The first stanza of our theme hymn this Advent proclaims a church united. The theme this Advent is "Unity in Christ." United to do what?
In July Ellie and I spent three days at the Christian Renewal Center, on the shores of Carlinford Loch, just across the border inside Northern Ireland. The center is dedicated to reconciliation in that troubled land. Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics participate. The symbol of the center is a golf umbrella, symbolizing the many colors of peoples and faiths meeting at the focal point which is Jesus Christ. They see themselves united, in spite of denominations, in spite of age-old conflicts, in spite of violence and terrorism, united in Jesus Christ. United to do what?
This past summer was especially volatile in Northern Ireland because July 12 marked the 300th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. On July 12, 1690, Protestant William of Orange defeated Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne, thus making Protestantism the official religion of Ireland until the civil wars of 1919-1921 which resulted in the independence of southern Ireland from the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom and 2/3 Protestant, celebrates the victory of the Battle of the Boyne with unnecessary fanfare and pageantry. Parades were held throughout the summer with the Orangemen, dressed in 17th century military garb, reenacting the battle. "The Pope is the antiChrist" is the war cry. They insist on keeping the pot of bigotry boiling. Even in this country, radical Protestants will wear orange on St. Patrick's Day.
It had been planned that 30,000 Orangemen would hold a celebration on July 12 on the battlefield itself which is located in southern Ireland. The Center for Christian Renewal held a service the day before the 300th anniversary. On July 11, the Center gathered Christians of both sides to the battlefield itself to do two things: first, to repent on behalf of the nation. They held a service of confession and repentance. Instead of celebrating the victory of the Protestants, or lamenting the defeat of the Catholics, they offered prayers of confession and repentance. To quote the director, Cecil Kerr, "On behalf of the nation, we repented of the centuries' old mistakes, sins and rubbish, and, secondly, we prayed for the healing of the land."
The Center for Christian Renewal in Northern Ireland sees its mission to repent on behalf of the nation, and to pray for the healing of the land. On July 11, they gathered on the battlefield to repent and pray for healing. On July 12, the anticipated gathering of 30,000 Orangemen did not happen. Only Ian Paisley and a small group appeared. They gathered in the middle of the field, completely surrounded by the Republic of Ireland's military and police. The inflammatory commemoration was a fizzle.
The church of Jesus Christ is called to unity, to unite in spite of all differences, conflicts, hurt feelings; called to unity--to do what? To repent on behalf of the nation and to pray for the healing of the land. Our congregation is called to unite, to unite in Jesus as our focal point, to repent on behalf of the nation and to pray for healing.
Today we are not third-hand observers of turmoil, violence and war. January 15 looms before us, like July 12 in Northern Ireland. The world stands on the brink of war, on the brink of lunacy, on the brink of holocaust. We were in Europe when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Europeans have experienced war first-hand. Americans have not had our homeland bombed. We have been insulated from the devastation of war and, therefore, tend to be less fearful and apprehensive. We talk glibly. Europeans know what war is and they are frightened. They accuse our State Department of mishandling the situation, ignoring Hussein's signals of invasion, even giving him mixed signals. Now we have ourselves and the world in a mess. Now we have thousands of our youngest and finest in position for desert warfare.
Now, what do we do? As the church, we unite in Christ, repent on behalf of our nation, and pray for the healing of the land, pray for a peaceful solution. Our scripture lesson this morning poetically and dramatically calls us to the task of repentance and healing. Judah had been conquered. Jerusalem had been sacked. The temple had been destroyed. Isaiah the prophet called his people to repentance. Isaiah 64:6-7 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you;for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Then, Isaiah prays for healing. Out of a sense of desperation, and a terrifying awareness of God's absence, Isaiah prays for God to come. In Advent especially we pray for God to visit. We pray when we are painfully aware of God's absence. When God is present, we praise and rejoice. When God is absent, we pray. Listen to Isaiah's agonizing plea, 63:15, 64:1-2 Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and glorious habitation.Where are your zeal and your might? The yearning of your heart and your compassion? They are withheld from me...O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence-- as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil--to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
Oh, God, Isaiah prays, come, make your name known to your enemies. Tear open the heavens, let the mountains quake and tremble at your presence. Come like fire, kindling brushwood, bringing water to boil. Let the nations tremble. We have been defeated, cries Isaiah. Our enemies are upon us. Oh, God, where are you? Come and save us. Come and heal the land.
On this first Sunday in Advent when we prepare for the Lord's coming, anticipating and praying for peace; let us pray fervently, believing in the power of prayer for repentance and healing. On behalf of our nation, let us repent of arrogance, repent of our greedy dependence on oil, repent of an easy-fix reliance on military power, repent of a naive belief in the efficacy of war.
Let us pray for healing. Let us pray fervently for sanity to prevail. Let us pray that a peaceful solution may be found, pray that the talks with Iraq will succeed, pray that our boys will come home (How many of you know personally someone who is over there now?), pray that energy sources other than petroleum will be developed.
We gather at the Communion table this first Sunday in Advent to repent, and to pray to God to tear open the heavens. Oh God, come, shake the mountains, boil the water, kindle the brushwood, let the nations see the Lord. Oh God, shake some shoulders, soften hard heads, bend proud hearts, break through resistance, and heal the land.
© 1990 Douglas I. Norris