Third Sunday in Advent

Preachers rarely have the luxury of unity on Sunday mornings. More often than not what you have are three cats running off with different threads. The Psalm goes this way, the Epistle that, and the Gospel does its own thing. This morning, however, because of the deep intention of this Advent season, I am gifted with great cohesion in today’s readings.

To begin with, we have that deep beseeching in today’s Psalm, that the Lord would restore us to His favour so that His face might shine upon us. The Gospel replies, with an Angel telling Joseph that the Lord’s face shall be revealed in the babe that his wife shall bare, to save His people from their sins. And then Paul’s letter to the Romans is a neat summary to the faithful. Describing God’s descent to the flesh that all of mankind may be called toward the Lord in the fellowship of saints.

In these three readings we see the conversation that happens in our faith, the deep yearning of our souls that God may shine upon us, God’s answer to this prayer in gifting us with His Son, and then the lingering responsibility to uphold the blessing of His reply. For as God has crossed such a divide to come and know us, so too are we called to make a pilgrimage to him. Advent is a time of pilgrimage where we journey in reflection, and ponder what it means that God is coming into the world.

When one spends a bit time with the literature on the subject, a word that keeps bubbling to the surface is: “scandal.” For it is scandalous to believe that the creator should allow himself to be created, that the infinite should be clothed in flesh, that he who forged the stars should himself be found under a star in Bethlehem. This series of contradictions smash up against our desire for simple reason, and scandalize our understanding.

Today’s gospel begins with a noble man not wanting to cause a scandal. Joseph does not want to cause disgrace, so he seeks to dismiss Mary away from the public eye. But the pure motives of a noble man are not how God chooses to come to us. God begets scandal atop of scandal. The divine becomes mortal through a virgin birth, the logic of the world is overthrown, as Christ will overturn all the tables we put in front of him.

And here we come to the real scandal of the virgin birth, that the Messiah comes not in power and glory to lead the revolution against the Romans, but to lead by an example of vulnerability. The Lord of hosts triumphs neither in reason nor conquest but in surrender.  The Christian life is about celebrating that vulnerability, by following that example, and surrendering our desires to the love of God.

After the floods of the Old Testament, our God promised not to destroy again, but hearing his people’s lament in the wilderness of the world, replied to them by entering a manger. God who made all things made himself of Mary. He who was able to make all things out of nothing refused to re-make it by force, but instead became the son of Mary. So God is the father of all created things and Mary is the mother all recreated things. God is the father of all that is established and Mary is the mother of all that is re-established. That last bit is from St. Anselm’s prayer about Mary, and a fitting prayer to remember on the day we consider what God’s entry into the world means for us, and whether we desire to be refashioned as God refashioned creation.

Now in my day job, I spend much time with people who desire to be refashioned. I meet with people, daily, who are struggling with addiction in one form or another, and I am continually confronted with their desire to be reformed. But it is great effort, great effort to repent. And I mean repent here in the purest sense, “to turn around,” to alter the course that the world has assigned you so that you may draw closer to the God of life and turn from the way of death.

How that effort is made is with help, for salvation is a group activity. Where two or three are gathered in my name there shall I be also. Our faith is not a philosophy for individuals but a community that runs the race set before us together. So we gather here on Sunday morning, Sunday the first day of creation, that we may partake of the New Adam, and carry that newness into the world, in remembrance of He who made all things new.

And then we do it again next week, repeating the same confession over and over and over again, wondering if we’ll ever get this right. But this is it, this is the refashioning for confession is the refinement of the soul. The spiritual practice is just that, a practice. It is something you get better at over time. You do it over and over and over again that the skill of salvation may enter your bones, and that when you come across some wayward soul who has lost the thread of life, you may be able to turn unto them and say: “Rejoice, your salvation is at hand.”

It is right to give thanks

We are overwhelmed.

Since posting the Manifesto a couple of weeks ago, we have had 13,000 views.

It seems that we have hit a nerve.

We are grateful – very grateful – for how many have expressed a resonance with what we have felt in our hearts as we wrote together.

We are grateful that so many of you are interested in recovering the beautiful jewels of our specific tradition as Christ-followers who are Anglicans.

We recognize that there are many Christian tribes and traditions out there – and that common prayer, confessions, creeds and shared doctrines are not marks of all of them.  We aren’t wishing to stand against anyone’s freedom of choice – we’re simply seeking to polish these ancient jewels within our specific communion as we seek a strong prayerful and theological foundation for doing so.

We aren’t trying to start a movement per se, but only seek to re-align ourselves with a movement founded some two-thousand years ago. As Christendom fades, we’re grateful that this is an exciting time to follow Jesus.

We also recognize that there are traditionalisms within Anglicanism that are not life-giving, and we’re grateful to have this blog to continue praying and dialoguing through what living traditions should be lifted up, and which traditions should be cast aside.  We recognize that we won’t always agree on the finer points and encourage that dialogue rooted in prayer and the realization that the Holy Spirit is still moving in our communities.

We don’t wish to denigrate specific people or theologians but we do wish to remain theological in the best sense of that word: the study of God or of ‘faith seeking understanding’. We do lean upon a theology which affirms the radical notion of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ and that has the audacity to believe in miracles over metaphors. We risk a theological posture that proclaims that the “…message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.” (Wright).

We’re grateful to see the ecumenical response from our sisters and brothers in Christ from Lutheran, United/Methodist (and other) Christian traditions – and hope that we can pray and seek the common jewels alongside each other.  We sense that there is a movement and hunger amongst many people in the mainline to recover some of the amazing adventure that our forbears discovered and lived in their faith.  How is it that we’re called to walk together in our common faith? Let’s keep exploring this.

We love our sisters and brothers, even when we disagree.  However, we don’t desire to become a turf war for the various factions of Anglicanism, nor is this a space for Rome and Constantinople to do recruiting drives. We are not ignorant of our options. We have “flittered” with “higher” and “lower” churches, and, yes, on a bad day the grass does look greener, but, as The Manifesto said: we are going nowhere. .

In any manifesto, there is a certain amount of hyperbole – and in ours, that begins right in the first line: “We are a generation of Anglican Christians”.  Manifestos are designed to rile us up. We recognize that we don’t speak for everyone under the age of 45, nor do we exclude Baby Boomers in sharing our hopes and concerns.  Sure, there does seem to be a general generational divide – but as the comments have shown there are people who agree and disagree on either side of the Boomer/Post-Boomer divide – and we’re grateful for people of all ages who seek to claim/recover the jewels of our specific tradition.

Some have expressed some angst or discomfort around our anonymity.  We’re flattered that something we’ve prayed through and written has spoken to so many – but we’re not seeking to be heroes or targets here.  If you’re interested – we are a small group of collaborators who wrote this. We’re between 30 and 45 and in both lay and ordained positions within the mainstream Anglican church.  The later point is important because some of our writing will be in response to the dominant ethos of our denomination – for which, we should note, we are grateful.

The name ‘Tract 91’ is ‘riffing’ off of the idea of the 19th-century ‘Tracts For The Times’ – which published 90 tracts.  Most of the early tracts were published anonymously or under pseudonyms.  We’ve talked about ‘coming out’ – and we likely will at some point in the future – – but, for now, in these early days we would like the ideas to simply speak for themselves and spark dialogue and be refined – rather than be linked to personalities, communities, or geography.

We are certainly happy to correspond as we are able – and to accept submissions to tract91@gmail.com.

Perhaps this goes without saying, but submissions should apply to the general tone and hopes of The Manifesto. If a submission is accepted it will be published anonymously.

We remain yours – in Christ

The Tract 91 Manifesto Writers