Common Grace, December 2017
Studying journalism turns you into a particular kind of person. The one who has eight different news apps all vying for attention with various notification sounds, updating you regularly through the day of what’s going on in the world. You wake up to a notification feed that overflows when a tragedy happens. You can’t escape it; updates roll through as the news breaks. To stay sane, you need to create a certain kind of distance that leaves you emotionally closed to tragic news.
So sitting in a crowd while a church panel talked about the need for the church to respond to the ‘Others,’ I’ll confess, my heart was hard. Bitter even, wondering why it was so easy for us to focus on the displaced people from far away lands, rather than remembering the people held on offshore processing centres a few hundred kilometres away under Australian care. That heart of stone? That was me.
The promise in Ezekiel 36 that our hearts of stone shall be removed is a painful promise. It’s not just a promise that the old will be restored, but that there will be new dreams, new hopes and new challenges, all three requiring us each to act. Action is seldom easy, and over the course of a lifetime it can so often feel futile, but when people from churches across the world sit for an hour and hear stories of justice, that’s opportunity. That’s the road to a new spirit, a new heart, to action. The realisation hit me hard, and that’s when hot tears started falling.
From the early days of his civil rights activism, Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. shared a quote from 19th century Unitarian minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker:
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends towards justice.”
This quote would follow him as he marched from Selma to Montgomery, to conferences across the nation, so linked to his message that the White House mistakenly attributed the quote to him in a woven rug that lay in the Oval Office. It’s a quote I have hanging on my wall, and it’s been my mantra as I impatiently wait for greater justice to come.
It’s a simple thought when you break it down; life is long, but there is hope. I wonder if this is what the Israelites thought as they waited for the promises of the Lord to be fulfilled in the wilderness, if this is what provides hopes to people seeking asylum in their own wildernesses; I wonder if this is a thought we can reflect on this Advent season.
The early church rested on this, trusting even when the Saviour didn’t return in their lifetime. There was a choice, to harden oneself and embrace the heart of stone to help numb the pain, or to stand, arms outstretched like Christ, and trust that this heart of flesh has been given to us for a reason; holding onto faith in the hope of promises restored.
The arc is long, and we have been waiting millennia for Christ to return, and still we hope. Like the Israelites waiting for the promise of a new home out the wilderness, like our brothers and sisters seeking asylum in countries far from home, like the early church waiting for their saviour to come back, we keep the faith – despite the cost.
In the midst of this Advent season, I challenge us all to find opportunity to move towards the beauty of a new spirit. May our actions not become idols, but the ways we keep ourselves soft. May we receive the clean water of restoration, the new spirit that brings fresh ideas and understanding. May we lead each other to the land given to our ancestors, the land of peace and reconciliation we have been promised.
24 I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.