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ADVENT 3: The Christmas Miracle Through the Eyes of Mary and Joseph

W. Stephen Gunter, Ph.D.
E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism Director

Part of a three-part Advent series. Previous posts: ADVENT 1 and ADVENT 2

Text: Matthew 2
[Listen to the Audio] – COMING SOON

Our approach in this Advent Lesson is a complete change of pace from the first two weeks. Our first and second talks were highly cognitive and required hard exercises in attentive listening. This morning we move away from the highly cognitive more intellectual approach to a style that is basically more story-like and perhaps even poetic in its framing.

My spring boards for the first two lessons were from the hand of the Anglican priest, Fleming Rutledge in New York. Today my inspiration is another New York woman, Donna Van Liere – the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Finding Grace, the Christmas Hope Series books, and The Angels of Morgan Hill, and most recently The Christmas Star (2018). Her books are small coffee table collectibles, and they are available on Amazon. I wish I had her gift of poetic and easy narrative, but as you heard in my first two lessons, I do not.

I wanted to do something completely different for this third Advent Lesson, so I turn to a woman whose poetic turn of phrase I deeply admire.

Christmas today is a full-blown industry.  Muzak fills malls and grocery stores with “Winter Wonderland” and “The Little Drummer  Boy” before the Thanksgiving turkey is picked off the bone.  Bell ringers take their places earlier each year and meteorologist forecast the mildest day to do that last-minute shopping. Cards with scribbled signature of someone you vaguely know in the family tree cram in your mailbox, and on TV a big haired woman wearing an impish elf skirt and Santa hat sits on the side of a hot tub and invites you to “buy one today” at rock-bottom Christmas prices. Where has the wonderment gone? Where is the sense that one plus one somehow no longer equals two, but rather adds up to more than a million on that dazzling, holy, and remarkable day?

With respect to the Christmas Story in Matthew 2, hear these words from Donna Van Liere:

They have to go. They have no choice. Emperor Caesar Augustus has issued a decree that a census will be taken of the entire Roman world to aid in military drafting and tax collection.”

The Jews do not have to serve in the Roman army, but since they are obligated to pay taxes in Rome, everyone will have to go register at the place of their ancestral home.  For Joseph’s family it would be over seventy miles,  and a four to seven day walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the town of his ancestors. It’s not going to be an easy journey either, considering the shape Mary is in. She is nine months pregnant and will have to make the trip that winds through wilderness, desert, and mountainside, sitting sidesaddle on a donkey and feeling every rock and bump along the way.

Joseph leads the donkey out of the village at dawn.  Mary’s eyes are heavy, as she spent a sleepless night and had been awake for hours waiting for the light. The smell of fish and eggs cooking on morning fires saturates the street with a misty fog as families prepare for breakfast. Joseph’s stomach rumbles and he packs the donkey.  He should have eaten more but is anxious to get on the road.  His eyes meet Mary’s as he helps her onto the donkey.  He nods and she smiles in the half-light. Joseph walks beside the donkey, and although he does not look at them, he feels the eyes of his neighbors as they pass. The chattering of three women drawing water ceases as he and Mary go by, and Mary keeps her head down. She has long known what they think of her. The laughter of two men mending a fishing net subsides to a whisper as the donkey approaches, and children stop playing in the street when their mothers clack their tongues and snap their fingers.

Joseph sets his jaw and ignores them, relieved to get away for a while. The angel of God had visited him and Mary about this baby, but he hadn’t visited everyone in town. Joseph has heard the townspeople ridicule Mary. He has seen them point and turn away, ostracizing her with their clenched teeth and cold shoulders. “Perversion” they had said.  “Prostituted under the nose of the father.”  The gossiped indictments and whispered innuendos have seeped under every doorway. The conception was not cloaked in anonymity. Everyone knew her name. They knew her father and mother’s name.

Joseph’s own heart has throbbed with a dull pain for weeks, and looking at Mary, he wonders how someone so young is able to bear the burden of such a stigma.

Mary lays her hands on her swollen belly. They baby dropped into the birth canal days ago, causing increasing discomfort. A chill clings to the shadows that stretch over the sleepy town, and Joseph places a thin blanket over Mary’s legs.

The morning echoes grow distant as they thread their way out of town, and Joseph’s tensions ease.

“Are you well?” he asks.

“I am,” she says, smiling, rubbing her stomach. “He is no longer stirring, but is heavy inside.”

Joseph forces a smile and quickens his steps.  What if she gives birth on the side of a mountain? What if the baby comes in the middle of the wilderness?  What would he do?  Who could help him?  Several families from Nazareth are traveling in caravans on the road ahead and behind them, but Joseph does not feel he can rely on them for help. He has never felt so isolated in his life.

They are quiet as the sun rises. There is so much to discuss, so many questions to ask, but neither of them is ready. Thoughts swirl in their minds as the donkey clop-clops his way over the terrain. The valley is a canvas of windblown grass swimming with wildflowers and fruit trees. Mary does not pick any fruit yet: there would be more opportunities on the journey. The smell of balsam fills the air, and Mary takes a deep breath, the scent reminding her of childhood playtime on the hills surrounding her home.

The road ahead is full of twists and turns as lush valley turns to chalky dirt and then rock. Mary is jostled about on the donkey, and flashing pain takes her breath. She reaches for her back, attempting to ease the hurt, but there it is again. She leans forward on the donkey and holds her breath till the ache passes. It seems so long ago that she was baking bread in her home, a young girl giggling with her mother and teasing her siblings. Was it only nine months ago?  Mary smiles, her mind swirling with sweet childlike noises from her parent’s home.

In a small village, Joseph helps Mary to the ground, where women are picking over fruit in the marketplace. He leads the donkey to a trough filled with water. Mary stretches and arches her back. “Are you hungry?” she asks.  “Always,” Joseph says smiling, taking off his sandals.

She moves her hand over her abdomen. There was no longer a plate set for her at her parent’s table. Her place of rest beside her sister was now empty. They would no longer whisper into the night, sharing girlish secrets and stories. She closes her eyes and breathes deeply. It is still too much to comprehend that the promise of God is enfleshed in her womb, dependent upon her for life.

She unwraps some bread and fish she brought from home. These foods always travel well, and she hopes she has packed enough for their trip. She reaches into a satchel for some figs and a pomegranate they picked outside the village.

“Do you want to sit?” he asks, pointing to the shade of a tree.

“No,” she says, laughing. He sits beneath the tree and pushes the bread into his mouth. Mary walks to the well in the center of town and draws water, filling a cup and taking it to Joseph.  He drinks it down and she fills it again. She hands the cup to him and leans against the tree. The noise of customers haggling over prices and clanking of merchandise in the marketplace drifts on the wind as Mary watches the donkey drink. “Are you frightened, Joseph?” she asks.

He looks up at her. Every illusion he had of starting a family with her ended months ago when she told him she was pregnant. Every conceivable dream of the village celebrating their wedding shattered when rumors swelled that his betrothed was a harlot. Swept away with those dreams were his plans and desires and every expectation he had for their new life together. He was torn from the privacy of a once-quiet life and shifted into one of public shame and ridicule. He is still trying to wrap his mind around all that has taken place in so short a time. He watches Mary as the corners of her mouth turn up in soft edges.  For months now, those she had grown up with, who have shared meals around her family’s table have been quick to brand her, but these well-mannered guardians of morality never ever cupped their ear to hear the truth or offered a word of compassion. The hourglass has been turned and eternity is fast approaching, but their thoughts have been consumed with how the law of Moses is unwavering concerning what to do with those caught in sexual sin. The very angel who came to Mary all those months ago must surely have guarded her life from the hatred and condemnation of the righteous bent on vengeance in the name of God. How else has her life been spared?  Is she frightened? He cannot tell. He hasn’t known her long enough to discern her emotions or fears. They are both so new to each other.

“The angel told me not to be afraid,” he says.

A breeze laps at her face and she remains quiet, thinking. “So then, you are not?”

He breaks the bread in two and hands her a piece. “I wish I could say that I am not, but I am. I am terrified.” He watches as others gather around the well. “What does that make me?”

She sits on the ground and reaches for a fig. ”As human as I,” she says. “I too am frightened. There is so much that I don’t know.” Her voice is faint. “So much that I will never understand.” He looks at her, and her eyes are deep, touching the far reaches of her soul. “Why was I chosen for this?  Why you?”

He shakes his head. “How will I teach him?”

“How do you teach any child?” she asks.

He turns his face to her. “Yes. But how do you teach him?” They eat in silence as the question fills the air around them. “How will I raise him?”

“With love,” she says.

He looks at her. “But is love from a common man enough?”

She traces her finger through the blades of grass in front of her. “It will be more than enough,” she says. “It is the very reason he’s coming.”

Their rest is short; they want to make the next town by nightfall. The donkey’s footing is unsure beneath Mary on the mountainside, and she urges Joseph to stop and help her to the ground. Her breath is shallow as she walks behind Joseph; she hasn’t been able to take a deep breath in weeks. Her legs begin to cramp, and she stumbles over rocks on the path, groping for the donkey’s back. “Joseph, stop!” she says, catching her breath. “I can’t go on.”  Joseph helps her sit on a rock protruding from the mountain. She wipes her forehead and pushed her hand over her belly; it is hard and no longer seems to be part of her. She winces at the pain of an early contraction, and Joseph loosens the straps of her sandals, slipping them off her swollen feet. He brushes caked dirt away from her toes and ankles.  She groans and rests her head against the mountain, gasping for air. There are no royal privileges for this birth–no attendants to help them over the mountain, no cooks to tend their meals or servants to soothe her aching back and feet. This baby would not be born into a soft-cushioned life. A pain knifes through her again, and she screams. Tears fill her eyes, and when Joseph sees her tears, every thought that has occupied his mind on the journey flees. He pulls her head onto his shoulder, holding her till the hurt subsides. “He will come soon,” Mary says between breaths. Joseph feels his heart race and he nods.

It is late on the firth day when they reach Bethlehem. The town is already crowded from the many pilgrims traveling for the census, all of them clamoring for a place to stay.

The westering sun breathes a final sigh, escaping with the last glints of light. Joseph’s nerves are on edge as he seeks lodging. His feet are blistered and sore and Mary is exhausted. The contractions started growing closer together hours ago, and she is nearing the end of her strength. Mary is jostled and bumped as Joseph inches his way through the congested street. The crush of the crowd pushes them forward at a pace that frightens Mary.

People are bustling outside the inn, and Joseph leaves her alone on the donkey as he presses his way to the door. A beggar reaches for Joseph’s arm, but someone pushes the old man out of the way. Joseph raps on the door and can hear commotion behind it. He knocks louder, and a harried man with a pale face opens the door.

“There is no room,” he says, before Joseph can speak.  Joseph peers around him and sees that the inn is so bloated with people that some are lying on the floor or curled up on the stairs. The innkeeper and Joseph stare at each other in clumsy silence before Joseph thanks him and turns to leave, shaking his head at Mary. Her face is stricken as she holds her stomach. Her water has broken, and it won’t be long before the baby comes.

“You,” the innkeeper says. Joseph turns to look at him. “You can stay there,” the innkeeper says, pointing to his stable in the hillside. “My guest’s animals are inside, but if you can find a space among them, you are welcome to it.”

Joseph surveys the busy street and realizes there is no place for them to go. He looks at Mary and she nods; they have no other option. “Thank you. We’ll take it,” he tells the innkeeper.

When Joseph opens the stable door, the stench of hot, sweaty animals and manure assaults them. He hesitates for a moment–this is no place for a birth–but Mary groans, her face twisting in agony. Joseph helps her off the donkey and holds an oil lamp the innkeeper has given them to guide Mary into the stable. The darkened barn frightens him; Mary might stumble and fall. The lamp he carries is barely enough light to read by let alone usher in the birth of Christ child.

Sheep scatter throughout the stable as he leads Mary inside; a disgruntled cow stamps her foot and lifts her tail to urinate. Donkeys kick at the stable wall and bray, their breath coming out in puffy clouds of mist.

Joseph spots an empty space against the back wall that will have to serve as a birthing room. Mary can rest there. He helps her to the floor, and she leans her head against the earthen wall, her back aching from carrying the weight of the world in her womb. This is a dismal place for a woman no older than a child to give birth to a child.  She hadn’t imagined this pain when she told the angel she was the Lord’s servant.

“May it be to me as you have said,” she had told him. She moans; the contractions are growing closer together now.  Outside, the shadows grow still and deepen more as the agony of life awakes the night.

As Joseph tries to keep the oil lamp lit, Mary grabs his hand. “Joseph, hurry! Grabbing the lamp, he leaves Mary alone in the darkness. He stumbles through the stable and spots a trough that could serve as a bed, and the hay that the sheep are sleeping on could do as bedding–but there are no blankets!

He whirls around, searching the pens and walls. What can he use for blankets? His robe would have to work for now. He pulls it off as a contraction seizes Mary. Her scream pierces the night. “Joseph, I need you! Please, Joseph! Hurry! She tries to pull herself in upright in a squatting position, but her legs tremble beneath her, forcing her on her back.

Another big scream brings Joseph running from the watering trough, cold water spilling over the bucket rim. The Light of the World pushes his way into the darkness as Joseph rushes to help.  As he sets the lamp down, Joseph’s heart pounds with uncertainty and his hands tremble.  He has seen the birth of many animals but never that of a child. Mary cries and she pushes her elbows into the ground. She grabs at dirt, straw, anything she can clutch in her hands. Joseph coaches as best he knows how: wiping sweat from her brow and guiding the baby out, but Mary is tired; her strength nearly gone. “Can you push again?” Joseph asks, holding the baby’s head in his hands. She shakes her head. “I cannot,” she screams. Her hair sticks to the perspiration on her face, and streams of sweat pour over her neck and chest. “You must,” he pleads. “You must try!”

She pushes with what seems to be little result, her cries rising above those of the animals. Joseph urges her to keep pushing, keep pushing. And with one final cry of anguish and a push, her labor is over.

Immanuel is here.

His skin is light. The olive color would appear slowly in the weeks to come. His head is misshapen from being pushed through the birth canal. His body is red, blotchy, covered with mucus. Is this truly the Son of Almighty God, screaming now as his earthy father smacks his bottom? Joseph uses some of the animals’ rags and wipes off the slippery fluid, then swaddles the baby in dry ones. Mary lies on the stable floor, trying to catch her breath. The Messiah’s cries are louder now.

Mary reaches for her newborn, and Joseph clumsily hands him to her. “Shh,  shh,  shh,” she says, laying him on her chest and guiding his tiny head to find what her was looking for. Is this the same voice that had spoken the world into existence… whimpering now at the breast of a maidservant?  Mary caresses his face and counts each finger on his tiny hand. And hands that once placed the stars in the sky and sculpted magnificent landscapes grasp her finger. Mary secrets away each movement and sound and scent in her heart. He looks up, and eyes that saw her before she was born strain to see his mother. She laughs as his tiny mouth turns up into slight crescent. The face of God smiling. Mary kisses his forehead and holds him closer. Deity swaddled in the arms of humanity.

Joseph sits in the silence and watches. His face is weathered and flushed. There was a time, at the beginning of the pregnancy that he wanted to walk away. But after the angel spoke with him, he knew he should stay, and now, looking at his wife and son, the depths of his heart swell to the surface and his eyes blur. This is he of whom the prophets spoke, seeking nourishment from his mother. Stretching before them is a new life, together as a family, filled with first words, first laughs, and first steps. He would teach his son how to plane a piece of wood and hold a hammer, just as his father had taught him. God’s Son would grow up with the smell of sawdust in his nostrils. Joseph’s chest pounds with the wonder and mystery of it all. He comes closer, holding Mary in his arms, and together they look at this baby… Jesus,  who opens his mouth in a yawn. The Savior is sleepy.

In an incomprehensible, humbling move, the Son of God left the majestic splendor of heaven and stepped down into our world to become an infant, to become a man. There were no royal robes or parades, no trumpeted arrival. At a birth where there should have been the finest marble and linens, there was only dirt, a few bales of hay, and the filthy rags of animals. Where there should have been a legion of angels, there was just a handful of bleating sheep, a couple of anxious camels, a few tethered donkeys.  And where there should have been a king and a queen and the pomp and circumstance of a royal court, there was only a frightened teenager and her tradesman spouse. Angels did announce the birth of the King but only to a few shepherds guarding their flocks. And that brilliant star was shining in the night; but with the exception of three foreigners, no one even bothered to notice it.

 

That brilliant star of Bethlehem still shines in the night, but only a few see Jesus for who he really is. Only a few paid any attention to Jesus on that miraculous Christmas Morn, and truly only a few “get it” in 2018. Advent is our chance to behold the Christmas Miracle in a fresh new light.

 

Mary, Did  You Know?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?
Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that our baby boy is heaven’s perfect lamb?
That sleeping child your holding is the great I am

Mary did you know? Mary did you know?  Mary did you know?
Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Oh

Mary did you know?

Songwriters:  Buddy Greene/Mark Lowry
Mary, Did You Know? lyrics @ Warner/Chappell Music. Inc. Capitol  Christian Music Group

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ADVENT 2: Waiting and Hastening 1

W. Stephen Gunter, Ph.D.
E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism Director

Part of a three-part Advent series. 
Previous post ADVENT 1  |  Next post ADVENT 3

Text: II Peter 3:11-18
[Listen to the Audio]

I never fail to be moved by the poetry of Charles Wesley set to music, and “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” is in my top 5 all-time favorites. We should sing it, not just during Advent and Christmas, but all the year around:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

(Charles Wesley, 1744 – UMH, p.196)

It is our natural tendency as Western Christians to read this as personal in the sense of individual (remember our lesson last Sunday?), but look at lines 5-8:

Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.

When I first went to Europe to live at age 17, I was needless to say “in deep culture shock.” Holland is not East Texas, and I do not mean the flatland polders around Amsterdam in contrast to the hills and pine trees. From living also in Germany, Switzerland, and England and traveling extensively in Southern Europe, I learned that we Americans have a characteristic disposition quite different than most any European.

We are, as a general rule, “people of action.” We do not typically take long lunches like the French. I learned that in France when you eat and pay for lunch, you have bought the table to linger as long as you like. The meal is a social occasion. Unless it is a 3-Martini lunch with our favorite lobbyist, we do not linger at lunch. But notice, when we do linger over lunch, it is because it is a ‘working lunch.’ We are a people on the move getting things accomplished. Unlike the Swiss, a lot of us do not stand at the crosswalk and wait for the light to change. Seen a driver run thru a yellow-turned red light recently? Ruth Ann’s brother, Bill, was fond of saying, “We are burning daylight.” In other words, if the sun is up and we are just sitting there drinking a leisurely cup of coffee, we are wasting time. We need to be on the job.

Last week we discovered deep reasons as to why Advent is hard for us. Advent is about Watching and Waiting, and at some cultural levels for us, this sounds a false note. We are not comfortable sitting around watching and waiting. We want to speed things up; we must move things along. God is moving too slowly; we have been waiting 2000 years already. If God is not going to “bring in the Kingdom,” we will bring it ourselves. That is the American Way.

All kidding aside, in 2018 we need to ask ourselves seriously, what are we  going to do with this tiresome Advent refrain about watching and waiting. In traditional Advent liturgies that stretch over several weeks, we hear that The Bridegroom has been delayed and the wise and foolish virgins are waiting. In the Parable of the Talents, the servants are waiting for their master to return. And just how long have we been waiting for the last judgment when the promise of Christmas will be fulfilled? Advent is not just about the first coming in Bethlehem, because in the Biblical narrative that first coming can never be separated from the Second Coming.

Actually, to what extent do we any longer take the anticipation of the Second Coming with utmost seriousness? We say, “Yes, we do!”, but to what extent is this mostly lip service to what we were taught in Sunday School. [Here, I am really speaking of Baptist Sunday School where lots of time was spent on learning the Bible as literally true.] Here, I am confessing, and I am not convinced that this confession is good for my soul. It is certainly not good for my reputation as an evangelical theologian.

This first part of my confession is mostly harmless: I am an urban and perhaps even urbane Christian just like a lot of people in our society. The second part of the confession is more tricky: Do I really believe that Jesus is coming back . . . not just coming one by one to individual souls in their own hearts. No, I am asking the full-throated Biblical question: Do I really believe that Jesus will come to call the entire cosmos into judgment? Coming to bring history as we know it to a close? Coming to bring his everlasting kingdom to pass? That is what the New Testament sets before us – not a private, individualized, spiritualized coming . . . but actually a coming cosmic event that will be visible to everyone!? In another Charles Wesley hymn that we quoted last week (“Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending” – 1758, UMH, p. 718): Every eye will now behold him, robed in dreadful majesty.

This claim the Church makes is too serious to fool around with. If we do not mean it, we should put an end to Advent liturgies. Actually, a lot of contemporary worship churches are doing away with Advent observation and settling for the romantic Jesus in a manger. And while we are at it, should shorten the Apostles’ Creed and leave out the line: “He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.” We could, of course, just omit the Apostles’ Creed altogether.

Our text for today from II Peter helps us to realize that we are not the first Christians to ask the questions related to “how long, O Lord, how long”? Why has so much time gone by? What has Christ not returned as promised? Is he really going to come back? Isn’t the creation just going to continue to rock along on its on? Read II Pet. 3:3-4). The Bible promises but offers no proof of any of this, and the entire apparatus of modern science would seem to undermine it so conclusively that we would be fools to go on believing it. It is “totally unbelievable.”

The book of II Peter is not an easy read but listen to II Peter 1:16: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitness of his majesty.” Eyewitness to the majesty of God. When we indwell the Christian Scriptures and they come to indwell us, our perspective changes. There is something different about the tone of the New Testament witness, something out of the ordinary. These men and women were staking their very lives, literally, on something that had been seen and corroborated by a large number of witness whom they, in turn, trusted.

Don’t read it as a modern romance about Jesus. Read it as a witness testimony. It is straightforward. It is full of real people with real faults, recognizably like ourselves, who nevertheless have a report to make: we are not following a myth, we were eyewitness to his majesty, we are testifying of His power and of His future coming. Thematic to early Advent liturgies is the Gospel truth: “Of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come . . . and what I say to you I say to all: Watch, Wait! Keep awake!” (Mark 11:32-33, 37; Matt. 24:42 and Luke 21:36). A related Advent image is that of the watchman who sits all night looking for the dawn. It all sounds very passive, as though there were absolutely nothing that we can do to hasten things along in connection with the phrase “waiting for and hastening.” How can you wait and hasten at the same time?!

It is at this juncture that Fleming Rutledge makes a turn in her sermon that I find stunningly brilliant. She says, “That, my fellow Americans, is the secret of the Christian life, knowing how to keep those two modes in creating tension, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God . . . [the new heavens’ and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”] She goes on to say, “This is so typical of Advent, the time of contrasts and opposites: darkness and light, good and evil, past and future, now and not yet. Finding the right balance between waiting and hastening is the challenge of our existence in the body of Christ until he comes again. We might call it action in waiting.” Let’s unpack this a bit in closing so that we can have something to take home with us – some Christian home work to ponder.

Since the 6th century the Church has been singing this Advent Hymn [not us Methodists, for the most part, but the Lutherans, Episcopalians and Roman Catholics]:

1 Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding;
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say;
“Cast away the works of darkness
O ye children of the day!”
2 Wakened by the solemn warning,
Let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her Sun, all sloth dispelling,
Shines upon the morning skies.
3 Lo! the Lamb, so long expected,
Comes with pardon down from heaven;
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all to be forgiven;
4 So when next He comes in glory,
Wrapping all the world in fear,
May He with His mercy shield us,
And with words of love draw near.

Translated from the Latin by Edward Caswall, 1814-1878

We notice in this grand old hymn the tension between the already and the not. This is the tension to which Advent calls us and in which we Christians live. If only God can bring peace and good will, if only God can create “a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells,” then what is the point our doing anything. If there is nothing we can do to improve the situation, then we really might as well withdraw into a private world of gated communities, exclusive clubs, and personal privilege and enjoy it as best we can before we are overtaken by cancer or senility.

This is where the Advent “action in waiting” comes in, the “hastening.” It is all a matter of what we are pointing toward. Let’s look for a moment at another section of II Peter. Speaking of the promises of God, the apostolic writer says, “We have the prophetic word made more sure . . . . Pay attention to this as to a lamp in a dark place, until the day dawn and the morning star rises in your hearts” (II Pet. 1:19). That is the heart of the message of Advent:

Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding;
Christ is nigh, it seems to say;
Cast away the works of darkness,
O ye children of the day!

The Church of The Resurrected Lord, the one who is calling us into God’s future, responds to the “thrilling voice” by doing the works of day, the works of light: the ministry to the imprisoned, the soup and sandwiches for the hungry, housing for the orphaned and destitute, a place of health and safety for the low income,the birthday parties for the children who will have no parties. These are lamps shining in dark places. These are works that glorify Christ while we wait for Him. This is action while waiting to hasten the d”Day of the Lord.” These are small glimpses into God’s future breaking in upon us.

To be sure, lots of Christians do these things, but we have sadly let them devolve in what we call social action. How sad that we have taken divine embodiments of health, hope, and healing and turned them in mere social action. Government social agencies do all these things in an arms-length transaction. The question for the Church this and every Advent and all year round is this: How
different are we than a government social agency? To what extent do we come alongside the poor lost souls left behind in our headlong rush to personal power in the form of wealth and privilege?
In closing, here is one final illustration – a true Advent story from the past. It is a Hanukkah story, about darkness and light. No Supreme Court decisions issued from it, no mighty movements came of it, no commemorative events have happened around it. In comparison to the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre that took place recently.2 My story is rather small in scale, but it was not insignificant.

I need you to use your imagination here. Picture a tidy residential street in a tranquil American suburb, ending in a cul-de-sac, lined with ten or fifteen attractive houses. Most of them are gentile homes, but one is Jewish. It is December, and that house has a menorah in the window for the celebration of Hanukkah. One night, vandals smash the windows, remove the menorah, throw it
on the ground, and scribble a swastika on the side of the house. The next night, every house on the street had a menorah burning in the window – lamps shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in the hearts of all.

Dear friends … we all stand on the threshold of God’s kingdom. We never know from moment to moment when an Advent moment of decision will come our way. The church in its sinful past has participated in so much damage over the years: so much harm to blacks, so much prejudice against Jews, so much degradation of foreign immigrants of all varieties, implicit and explicit harm to all sorts of people labelled as “other” – unbelievers of all varieties, their mortal sin being that they are not like those of us in positions of power and privilege.

“But it is not too late to start, to initiate change. The Lord is still out there in front of us. His future still approaches, his future in which all will be made new. His promise is sure; he will come. We make ready for him, this Advent Season and every season, by lighting whatever little lights the Lord has put in front of us; no light is too small to be used by him, action in waiting, pointing ahead, looking to Christ and for Christ. Even the smallest lights will be signs in this world, lights to show the way, beachheads to hold against the Enemy [Beelzebub, the prince of the air],” until the Day of the Lord: the day that shall dawn upon us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79).

This is Advent. Let us venture out in the name of the One who has come and will come again, so that in the anticipation of his first coming on Christmas morning, we will be lights of hope in a dark world that yearns for the New Creation of God’s design.

 

Read the previous post ADVENT 1


1 In its essential content, this Advent Lesson has its origins in a sermon preached by The Revd. Fleming Rutledge on the Second Sunday of Advent (1999) at Saint Michael and Saint George Episcopal Church in Saint Louis, Missouri.

2 The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was a mass shooting that occurred at Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 2018, while Shabbat morning services were being held. Eleven people were killed, and seven were injured.

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ADVENT 1: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ 1

W. Stephen Gunter, Ph.D.
E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism Director

Part of a three-part Advent series. Read the next post ADVENT 2

Today, I am going to confess to you why Advent is so hard for me. Advent is easy and fun when I see it in sentimental and romantic terms as the run up to Jesus in a manger. The problem here, when viewed this way, is that it is pleasurable, but it is not meaningful. It has little or no capacity for transformation. This romantic lens also does not do justice to Scripture and to the history of our liturgy. To discern the significance of Advent, we must “dig a little,” and it is my practice to avoid digging because it is hard work.

We will have 3 sessions together, and my first observations center on how Advent is “hard” for us. It is not my design to entertain you, but it is my hope that you will be thoughtfully engaged. These talks are being audio-recorded and will be on my [Church of the] Servant web page [Listen to the Audio]. No audio visuals will be used and that is quite on purpose. I do not want you to be distracted by color slides, but rather I want you to use your imagination. This will be a challenge for us, because I am inviting you to imagine something quite out of the ordinary.

The Once and Future Coming, Part I

Advent is ‘hard’ for us because it calls us to live into a rather unnatural state of being. It calls us to a conversion that will require our moving totally against the flow of contemporary culture and into being totally counter cultural. In most of our minds, Advent is simply preparation for Christmas. Indeed, it is that, but it is not the popular Santa Claus in a manger materialism of our sixty days of shopping left till Christmas. Nor is it the ‘Away in a Manger’ sentimentality, unless we center on the verse that says, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Indeed, Advent is about the hopes and fears of all the ages being met in the coming of the Incarnate God to heal our world in a consummate reconciliation. Most of the time, unfortunately, we gloss over this into order to rush to the manger and the Christmas tree – with not much distinction between the two destinations.

A genuine celebration of Advent is hard for us because we want to make it merely personal in the sense of individual. To be sure, it is deeply personal, but it should never be merely individual. Advent is cosmic. It is about the redemption of all of creation: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” (II Cor. 5:19) Let me say a bit more about why I believe Advent is comprehensively counter-cultural by setting out briefly some dominant characteristics of our American culture.

The first characteristic I would note is the Modern moral order. A new understanding of morality that focuses on the organization of society for mutual benefit rather than as an obligation to “higher” or eternal norms. In our modern construal, the “moral” is bound up with (and perhaps reduced to) the “economic.” Everything is measured in economic terms. Seen through the lens of the modern moral order, Advent cannot be about Christmas because we have lost sight of the ‘reason for the season.’ Not only in the Christmas shopping season, but all the year round, we have commodified everything, and that includes human beings. We measure people by their net worth and their economic contributions. In such a society, Jesus would not be of any account. Born in Bethlehem, Jesus and Joseph and Mary were refugees in Egypt pursued for slaughter by Pharaoh’s henchmen. In America today, refugees are not people of infinite worth created in the image of God. Refugees are scum.

Western society, as a whole, has bought into a totally naturalistic order of existence. It is no longer about creation but about coming into existence. Most of us would be insulted to suggest that we are atheistic or agnostic, but let’s explore this a bit. A quarter of a century ago, a most famous atheist, Stephen Hawking, said, “The human race is just a chemical scum on an average-sized planet, orbiting round a very average-size star, in the outer suburb of one of a million galaxies” [hence the expression: “You chemical scum, you”].[2] Two assumptions are at work here: Humanity is an insignificant accident in the evolution of the universe and as such human beings are therefore insignificant scum.

My point here is not that we readily agree with the scum assertions of Hawking, but rather that we are playing into his atheism when we reduce fellow human beings to objects of economic productivity. Against this the God of the universe screams out an eternal NO! In this ETERNAL NO, we encounter Advent. Created in the image and likeness of God, every human being is of infinite worth – of such worth that God’s very self comes and dwells among us for our salvation.

Another way that Advent is hard for us to adequately visualize and internalize is rooted in modern notions about individuality. We all know about medicines like buffered aspirin and buffered vitamin C. I would suggest to you that in our current secular world, we have become Buffered selves.[3]  In the modern social imaginary, the self is sort of insulated in an interior “mind,” no longer vulnerable to the transcendent order (God), on the one hand, or cosmic forces of evil (The Devil), on the other hand. These dimensions are largely absent from the modern social narrative. Even in church, it’s rather quaint to entertain such language. We of the older generation remember the language, but I believe I speak not only for myself when I say that few of us live our day to day lives under that sacred canopy. At the personal level, this may be the most pervasive change with which the Church has to deal. Our deepest selves are buffered against the intrusion of the divine. In this sense of buffered selves, we are increasingly secular.

Christian scholars who study our social/religious context have a definition of this: Exclusive humanism:  A worldview or social imaginary that is able to account for meaning and significance without any appeal to the divine or transcendence. It bothers me to put it this way, but we are all for the most part secular humanists. What I mean by that is this. We live our lives rather completely in an Immanent frame.  A constructed social space that frames our lives entirely within a natural (rather than supernatural) order. It is the circumscribed space of the modern social imaginary that precludes the vertical dimension – transcendence. That is why Advent is so hard for us, but that is also why we are in dire need of an authentic perspective on Advent and Christmas.

In the biblical narrative describing our social imaginary, humans are important, but God is the central player in the drama. There are three dimensions in interplay. Under the Sacred Canopy[4] we live in a between time – the time between God’s first coming at Christmas and the anticipated Second Coming. In this ‘between time’, as moderns, we fail to give adequate attention to the central player (God) in the opera of life, and moreover, we have written another actor out of the script. God is at work, human beings are at play and the Evil One (in Scripture variously called Satan, the devil, Beelzebul, “the ruler of this world” and “the prince of the power of the air”) is intent on disruption and destruction. To my mind, no one has captured the drama better than Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov: “God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the human heart.” This is what Advent is all about. It is little wonder that we find it hard. Our Christmas season is a studied avoidance of this Biblical drama.

“We can say that the entire kosmos, the world God loves (John 3:16), is the scene of the struggle between God and the devil. When Jesus says to Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not of this kosmos [world]’ (John 18:36), his meaning is clear: the sphere of power belonging to God, who created the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo), has invaded the Enemy, and in the most inconceivable way possible – the willed self-offering of God the Son to human wickedness in a scene of barbaric execution.”[5]

Advent is hard for us to grasp because, when we sentimentalize it into Christmas sweetness, we fail to remember the sweep of the Biblical narrative that includes not only life, but also death and resurrection. In Jesus, God’s future has arrived among us and that future is pulling us forward into God. This pull forward to God’s future is thwarted by our sinful insistence on privileging a world order that is totally immanent, defined by a utilitarian materialism that closes off the vertical dimension, what theologians call transcendence. The most bedeviling part of this is that to the extent that we have fallen prey to this secularism, we  less and less see people as human beings but more as “human doings,” and the importance of their doing is defined materially and economically by dollar productivity. Our escape saying is, “Well, its business” . . . as if all of life is a business. Our greatest deception is that we have increasingly come to believe that this actually constitutes reality, when it is actually a modern construal of reality. If I understand the Bible and the Season of Advent, this entire construal must be called into question. Human beings are not economic pawns on life’s business chess board. On the contrary, created in the image and likeness of God, every person is of ultimate intrinsic worth. So much so, that God came to save.

To travel with God into the offering of Advent, we must be converted. We have to break through the downward pull of the gravity built into our modern Christmas spin: A materialist construal of life within the immanent frame that does not recognize itself as construal-bound and circumscribed by the Modern Moral Order: The organization of society for individual social and economic benefit rather than an obligation to “higher” or eternal norms.

The reason Advent is so hard for us is that it is actually a call to repentance. We want the kingdom of Jesus, but we want it ordered other than the way he himself describes it, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (Jn 18:36). Advent and incarnation are not God’s response because all is well in the universe. Hear these words from the poet W. H. Auden:

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always plan.
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort [our buffered self] assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.[6]

I was talking last night with my sister-in-law, Jan Gunter, about my talk for this morning, and she remembered the phrase “slouching toward Bethlehem” from the poet William Butler Yeats (William Butler Yeats (13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939). Jan majored in English language and literature at Southern Nazarene University, so she remembers such things. Listen how Yeats, who lived a century ago, sounds like he could be writing today:

The Second Coming

by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: . . .
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Extreme ironic poetic question by Yeats. Jesus is a ‘rough beast’ because he is so totally unlike what we would design. He is a threat to our established order and he strikes fear in our souls when we see who Jesus really is and what he represents – a comprehensive challenge to our Modern Moral Order. Are you and I this day “slouching toward Bethlehem” rather than leaning into this marvelous Season of Promise? The multiple dimensions of Advent are hard for us because we have created and are propagating an alien world order. We insist on seeing it as reality, when it is in fact our material construal of reality. We want our ways to be God’s ways. We avoid the hard truth that the mosaic of Advent includes the Garden of Gethsemane and Golgotha. Advent and Incarnation are God’s response to our human predicament: “Lost in a haunted wood, children afraid of the night, who have never been happy or good.”

But, praise be to God, the Advent mosaic also includes Easter:

Lo, he comes with clouds descending
Once for our salvation slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending
Swell the triumphant strain.
Allelulia!
Alelulia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.[7]

So, in this Season, we purpose to do the hard work to live into the full significance of Advent – because there we will discover afresh and anew the “reason for the Season.” When this “reason” gets a hold on us, we might just experience Christian conversion. How could we not!?

We enter Advent in anticipation of the “Joy to the World,” the “already” but “not yet,” God has come!

Read the next post ADVENT 2


[1]  I am borrowing this title from one of my favorite preachers, Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge, whose 2018 book by this title is both the inspiration for and partial resource for these Advent lessons here at Church of the Servant.

[2] Quoted in Raymond Tallis, Reflections of a Mataphysical Flaneur (New York: 2014).

[3] For these fundamental characteristics of Secularity, see Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Fortunately for all of us, in 2014, James K.A. Smith published How (Not) to be Secular (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
When Charles Taylor lectured at Duke, he said, “Jamie Smith understands me better than I understand myself.” I recommend that you read Smith before you try to read Taylor.

[4] Borrowed from Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967).

[5] Fleming Rutledge, ADVENT: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp. 15-16).

[6] W. H. Auden, “September 1, 1939,” in The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden  (New York: Random House, 1945), 57.

[7] Charles Wesley, “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 718.

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Grant Recipients Share Ministry, Thanks

At the recent annual meeting of The Foundation for Evangelism board of trustees, grant recipients shared about their ministries and expressed their thanks for the funding that helps them to be catalysts to equip disciples to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism

Dr. Daniel Shin shared that as an E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew University in New Jersey he has been able to partner with other organizations  to further the vision and work of The Foundation for Evangelism, working cross culturally and ecumenically around the globe. He also shared that through his interactions on campus and beyond, he has come to realize that:

 

“People are searching for effective models of evangelism that are theologically informed, ethically responsible, and transformative for both persons and communities.”

 

 

Wallace Chappell Lectures

Rev. Dr. Jack Jackson, E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, Calif.,  expressed his excitement at giving the 2018-19 Wallace Chappell Lecture.

 

Making Disciples on the College Campus

Rev. Ryan Spurrier, director of campus ministry at UNC Chapel Hill spoke to the group of trustees and staff and shared how a grant from The Foundation had birthed new ministries and sparked excitement among the students there. He shared comments from several students who said:

I found out about Wesley through other people, and Wesley had given me so many great memories my first year (Retreats, Thursday Night Dinners, etc.) that i wanted to be responsible for bring other people to those experiences.

– Johnny Coppley

Evangelism and Outreach is central to Jesus’ life and teachings…. We are called to outreach to people not just to share the good news of Jesus with them, but also to bring them into the great Christian community and family that we have and value so much.

– Tate Rosenblatt

Evangelism and Outreach is important to the Church as it is a way for us to act out Christ’s love to others. Sometimes this is hard to find on a college campus and words may not have that much of an impact, but physically being there and doing things to make change makes it easier for more people to see God’s presence. Again, I felt this the most during Chalk the Quad* week during Thanksgiving. I was just starting to get involved with Wesley and seeing how many people the event touched who were not in the ministry was inspiring to me.

– Alex Erling

 

And finally, one student responded to the question “Is there a moment that you decided Evangelism Outreach is important?” by saying:

 

A friend and I reached out to [another student]** at a University UMC service and invited him to Wesley and he became a dedicated attendee of Men’s Small Group and Worship until he graduated.- Delaney Davis

 

*Chalk the Quad is an event in which a large a-frame chalk board is placed in the heart of campus and students are asked to respond to a Spiritual prompt.

** The student was baptized by University UMC during that academic year.

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Mary Ann Hunt Passes Away

The Foundation for Evangelism regrets to announce that Mary Ann Hunt died on Saturday, November 10, at the age of 98. Mrs. Hunt was the wife of the late Bishop Earl Hunt who was the former president of The Foundation for Evangelism.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, December 1, at Central United Methodist Church of Asheville, N.C., with the Rev. Dr. Robert M. Blackburn, Jr. and Bishop Lawrence McCleskey officiating.

The staff and board of trustees of The Foundation for Evangelism have extended their sympathies to the family of Mrs. Hunt.

Read Mrs. Hunt’s obituary

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You’re Invited to the 2018-19 Wallace Chappell Lectures

The 2018-2019 Wallace-Chappell Lecture Series will be held on February 12, 2019, in partnership with Saint Paul School of Theology (Leawood, KS) and the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection’s GROW night (Leawood, KS). Registration is free.

Beginning at 11A on February 12, 2019, Dr. Jack Jackson, E. Stanley Jones Associate Professor of Evangelism at Claremont School of Theology,  will speak in the Wesley Covenant Chapel where he will present from his recent publication, Offering Christ: John Wesley’s Evangelistic Vision,  with seminarians, faculty, and alumni.  The lecture will be live-streamed and simultaneously connected to the Oklahoma City Campus of Saint Paul.

Later that evening, Dr. Jackson will be the featured speaker at GROW NIGHT, a ministry of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection,  providing an innovative, interactive learning opportunity for active lay leadership to be equipped to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

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Bryan Stone Publishes Finding Faith Today

(from Recent Faculty Publications, Boston University School of Theology)

Finding Faith Today presents the findings of a multi-year study on how people come to faith in the US context. The book sheds new light on how people come to faith and what sort of spiritual, practical, and social changes accompany that.

Mark R. Teasdale, Associate Professor of Evangelism, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, says: “This book offers a paradigm shift! In a culture awash with statistical trends about religious adherence and programming meant to attract people to faith, Stone’s wide-ranging, thoughtful, and careful research provides a human face to the statistics. He shows us that most people find God in authentic relationships and communities. As people of faith we are freed from the business and celebrity often connected with faith-recruitment to welcome, befriend, and share our lives with others.”

Bryan Stone is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Boston University School of Theology. Among his published titles are: Evangelism After Pluralism (2018), A Reader in Ecclesiology (2012), Evangelism After Christendom (2006), and Faith and Film (2000).

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New Book on E. Stanley Jones

The recently released E. Stanley Jones: Sharing the Gospel in a Pluralistic Society is published in partnership with FFE and GBHEM. The book is an insightful look at Jones’ contextual ministry, marrying mission & evangelism.
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Jane’s Journeys – August, September 2018

General Board of Higher Education and Ministry Board Meeting

In early August, Jane participated in the GBHEM board meeting and was present for the signing of a new strategy agreement to establish the agency as the resource center for leadership, education, and formation to support future and current church leaders of the United Methodist Connection. “It was so good to be among friends and colleagues who share a vision for being the catalyst to equip emerging leaders in the church to share the Good News. I was excited to be a part of this meeting in which a new direction has been visioned for the future of this organization!”

Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies

Jane traveled to the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies at Pembroke College, Oxford, just a few weeks later to meet with E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism from seven of the 12 Methodist/Wesleyan-oriented seminaries. This gathering served as the annual meeting of the professors and was a great opportunity for them to engage with peers and academia. Jane noted that “I watched as the ESJPs were greeted with respect and interest, drawn into deep conversation across a spectrum of topics, and, perhaps most importantly, how they, in turn, challenged the academy to think about how this research might best translate to their training of students and beyond to equip the local church.” You can read the full story in the Oct/Nov fastFORWARD publication.

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ESJ Professors Gather at Oxford Institute

John and Charles Wesley began “The Holy Club” on the campus of Oxford University, so it is fitting that every four years, theologians in the Methodist/Wesleyan connection from around the globe gather at the Oxford Institute for Methodist Theological Studies. In August, the institute convened at Pembroke College, near Christ Church where John and Charles Wesley began their ministries which ultimately grew into a global Christian movement.

This year, in place of The Foundation for Evangelism’s bi-annual meeting of the E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism (ESJP), each professor was invited to submit an academic paper and to present their work at the institute.

Professors from seven of the 12 currently occupied E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism Chairs attended the event where they participated in Worship and Spirituality, Practical Theology, Theological Education, and Mission and Evangelism working groups.  Those attending included Dr. Bryan Stone (Boston University School of Theology), Dr. Mark Teasdale (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary), Dr. Daniel Shin (Drew Theological School), Dr. Joon Sik Park (Methodist Theological School in Ohio) , Dr. Jeffrey Conklin-Miller (Duke Divinity School), Dr. Sergei Nikolaev (Russia United Methodist Seminary), Dr. Stephen Gunter (FFE Professorships Director), and Jane Boatwright Wood (FFE President). Beyond these current professors, three former ESJPs participated in the event including Professor Priscilla Pope-Levison, who was a plenary lecturer.

The time provided academic and theological exploration; however it also provided a time for building connection and contemplating practical application in mission and evangelism. Dr. Daniel Shin (Drew Theological Seminary) said of the gathering:

This experience has given me a better understanding of the global reach and character of the Wesleyan/Methodist movement, and as such it was a very meaningful experience. I have made connections with people from Africa, southeast Asia, Korea, England, and of course, the U.S, with whom I hope to continue conversations for further studies and shared ministries.

Jane Boatwright Wood, President of The Foundation for Evangelism reflected that the event was a testament to the impact of the ESJPs on the global academic community, and confirmed that the professors were fulfilling the Foundation’s vision to be a catalyst to equip disciples to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. She stated:

I watched as the ESJPs were greeted with respect and interest, drawn into deep conversation across a spectrum of topics, and, perhaps most importantly, how they, in turn, challenged the academy to think about how this research might best translate to their training of students and beyond to equip the local church.

The E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism are a partnership between The Foundation for Evangelism and the respective seminaries to prepare the next generation of leaders for ministry in the local church through classes in evangelism, missions, and a variety of other disciplines all taught with a focus on evangelism in the spirit of John Wesley. Through ongoing research and publication, these professors reach far beyond the seminary walls to educate and equip clergy, laity, and youth for evangelism ministries that bear fruit in the 21st century local church.

The Foundation for Evangelism is a catalyst to equip disciples to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is a 501(c)(3) organization with roots in The United Methodist Church, serving in ministry to Methodist/Wesleyan partners who share in its mission and vision.

The Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies is an affiliate of the World Methodist Council. Its mission is to foster and support disciplined theological study among professional scholars and scholarly ministers and laypersons within the Methodist and Wesleyan traditions around the globe, with a goal of undergirding and enriching the ministry of these traditions in their global settings.