Advent Book Club Day 18

4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:4-8

Today’s thought is around power and the temptation to abuse it. There are the obvious abuses of economic, political and military power. And then there is the one us Christians sometimes find it hard to admit to. Abuse of spiritual power – perhaps then leading to abuse of the other forms of power.

By complete coincidence I was talking to an agnostic colleague last week. She had shared a car with a militant atheist friend who thought all religion was bad and that it should be banned. She was surprised to find herself in the “live and let live” camp and arguing for freedom for religious belief. Were the crusades bad? Yes. Were they an abuse of spiritual power? Yes. Jesus was the Prince of Peace. Those who took up arms in his name had missed the point. She didn’t go as far as to say that we should trust in God and the Gospel rather than the sword and the gun. But she did argue with her friend that religion didn’t have to be about the crusades – most of today’s Christians would never dream of picking up weapons and going and invading a place in God’s name. Although, as we spoke, we realised that some of the more extreme Christian Right in the USA might…

Coming back to today’s Bible passage, we realise that our model should be Christ, emptying ourselves of all power and humbly presenting ourselves to the world – “this is who I am, is is what I believe, this is why I believe.” My colleague and I talked about Church schools too – how much of the better results they achieve is due to privilege? How much is because the children behave better because their parents have at least some faith and hence belief that children should be given a moral compass. That’s not to say that atheist parents won’t have a moral compass – many do – it’s just that it is harder not to if you have truly listened to the Christian message to love God and love your neighbour.

And so we turn to today’s Great ‘O’ antiphon. Don’t worry – whilst I’m finding the seven new antiphons on my new CD beautiful and helpful, I won’t be sharing any more choral music with you today. I will, however, ponder the words in the context of the above. O Adonai – o Lord – a leader, a king who has set down the rules by which we should live… You aren’t abusing that kingly power. The outstretched arm with which you reach out to save us does not bear a sword. It bears the wound from a nail. You could have struck the Roman soldiers senseless. You could have struck the baying crowds dumb. But instead you allowed yourself to be nailed to a tree. And that arm – by which you hung – is the one that is held out to welcome us into your kingdom. Maranatha.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

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