a gospel culture

The first reading on the first Sunday of Advent at the beginning of the three year cycle of the lectionary proclaims: “In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains ... all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD ... that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ ... They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (from Isaiah 2:2-5).

Six weeks later the readings for the day of Epiphany (Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12 & Matthew 2:1-12) once again announce the gathering of the nations who bring gifts to the One who is the light of the world. The seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany open the Christian Year with the prophetic announcement of the global ingathering that will be formed into a multi-lingual gospel people at Pentecost. The story begins in a world of ethnic hostility and culture wars. The plot of the story will be the gospel drama of the world’s peoples learning war no more. It is the gospel of the in-breaking of the new human culture that Jesus both announces and embodies - the culture of the kingdom of God.

Living in the Christian year places us inside this drama in which all cultures learn the ways of the odd culture that is God’s kingdom come, God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. Sunday by Sunday the liturgy forms this new culture by teaching the church to practice the ways of the kingdom (see “Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation” by James K. A. Smith, Baker Academic, 2009, pp.155-214). God’s new ecclesial culture makes room for witnesses from every human culture and subculture - from every high-brow and low-brow culture, from every musical and language culture, from every national and political culture, from every ancient and modern culture.

The word ‘culture’ literally means “to till, to cultivate”. By definition cultures are alive, growing, changing. Congregations are living cultures which are called to humbly embody, and witness to, the promised culture of God’s future (Isaiah 65:17-25; Rev. 21:1-6). The cultivation of congregations that grow into inter-cultural communities of the kingdom of God is akin to the cultivation of a garden. It requires the patience to trust that the long, unpredictable season of watering and weeding, of tending and pruning will surely lead to the harvest that is the promise foretold in Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. That harvest will be the fruit of a people who, in Jesus Christ, learn war no more. (see ‘Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit’ in “Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America”, ed. Darrell L. Guder, Eerdmans, 1998, pp. 142-182).

At University Hill Congregation we mark each of the four Sundays of Advent, Christmas Day and the Sunday closest to Epiphany (January sixth) with a celebration of the sacrament of the Eucharist. As we gather at the Lord’s Table the future reign of God is, for a moment in time, present here and now. The presider invites the congregation to the banquet, saying: “Friends, this is the joyful feast of the people of God! They will come from the east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God.” And we come from our sports cultures and our pop cultures, our family cultures and our ethnic cultures to the welcome table of Jesus Christ that confronts and transforms every culture.

                                                                (from "Telling Time" by Edwin Searcy)

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