by the Revd Jody Stowell, Vicar of St Michael and All Angels, Harrow Weald
As we enter this first week of Advent, I have once again been drawn into the story of God as a political event.
At my church we are looking at the book of Isaiah over the next few weeks as a slight digression from the lectionary and I am struck afresh by the current message which is caught within its pages.
‘When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; offering incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and calling of convocation – I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity…Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.’
Says the Lord in Isaiah chapter 1.
It is both a harsh judgement and a pathway of redemption to the people of God. It is a harsh judgement on empty ritual; offerings that are no longer symbols of a life lived lovingly, justly and in step time with God. And it is a pathway of redemption because there is the potential to learn. The offerings that we are called to are to seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
In a year where party politics has been high on the agenda, it is worth re-establishing for ourselves what it means for us to have a Christian faith, the heart of which is profoundly political.
In Advent we turn our hearts again to welcome the coming King. A King who is a threat to the current political structures of Rome. A King who is a threat to any political structure which will oppress the poor and marginalised, whose Kingdom is the great upside down Kingdom, where the first will the last and the last will be first.
And as subjects of that King, the one who calls us friends, we are to join with him in the upsetting of any political structures which are creating a system that oppresses the poor, whoever we understand the ‘poor’ to be.
In Harrow we have Street Pastors, Foodbank and Firm Foundation, who work to address the immediate needs, and some long term needs, of those who have found themselves to be ‘the last’. But one of my ongoing questions is how these amazing and God-filled ministries can work together with others to challenge the system that creates the need that they serve.
One of the ways that we are exploring doing that in Harrow, together with those of all faiths and none, is through the community organising movement Citizens UK.
Citizens has been running for about 20 years, beginning in Tower Hamlets. It’s most famous national campaign has probably been regarding the Living Wage, seeking to challenge employers to offer a just wage and contract to their employees. There are local chapters all over London and the UK and each is engaged in political action which is important to their particular local community.
The beauty of Citizens is that it is set at the heart of the local community and can help to uncover the marginalised voices which often get lost in the big political system of central government. When people of the local community collectively say that the wages that they are being paid are simply not enough on which to live, or that there are not enough houses at an affordable rent for key workers in the community to afford, leading to lack of teachers and nurses, then it is that local community who are impacted by these things and can organise themselves to affect a real and lasting change.
And if you need convincing that joining together with those of all faiths and none in this endeavour of the Common Good, is a distinctively Christian act, we need only look to Jesus.
This Advent we wait for the King of the Cosmos to enter the world, identifying with all and every human being who ever lived, inviting them to become part of the re-creation of the whole shebang.
An invitation that was, and still is, offered to everyone.