My reflection for each day in Advent will celebrate examples of action in the world inspired by hope and the desire to bring closer God’s kingdom of love, peace and justice. These examples are set within a reflection on a piece of Scripture the Church provides for reading daily.
Today the Christian Church celebrates Saint Andrew. Best known in the British Isles as patron saint of Scotland, Andrew, the Galilean fisherman, is identified in gospel accounts as the first follower of Jesus Christ; the brother of Saint Peter, and the one who brought Peter to meet Christ, according to the gospel of John. Andrew is regarded by Christians as the first example of an evangelist, because he went to share the good news with others when he came to believe that Jesus was the Chosen One sent by God to save the world.
As well as the stories about Andrew in the four gospels the Church also provides a text from the prophet Isaiah to be read on St Andrew’s Day which contains the following verse:
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ Is. 52:7
This verse has become well-known in many Christian churches after it was included in a worship song which was particularly popular in the last quarter of the 20th century. The verse has its origins in a long ago time in which news of distant events , such as battle victories or the fall of enemy kings, was transmitted by messengers running between the cities of the ancient world across deserts, plain and mountains.
In a world of global communication there is no shortage of bad news. Even what is regarded with ecstatic joy as good news by some, is received as devastatingly bad news by others, as illustrated in the recent election of Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States. Instances of news which is good for everyone are known to be rare. So claims for such examples of universally good news are, not unreasonably, received by many people with caution, or even outrightly rejected. Hidden agendas, ulterior motives and dissimulation are suspected.
Christian preachers and evangelists are especially prone to be regarded with this kind of suspicion. What has been described as the “long institutional nightmare” (John Kent, 1987) of the Church, the abuse of the good news of Christ for the purposes of political and psychological power, overshadows Christian preaching and interferes with how it is received.
And yet there are examples though history of Christian evangelists, announcers of good news, who,whilst unequivocally located within a Christian vision of the world, have been able to be heard and to deliver a message of good news for everyone which has inspired hope and motivated action by many; producing a profound and universally acknowledged change for good in the world. In this way they have witnessed to the truth and proximity of God’s kingdom of love, peace and justice.
Amongst the living examples of such a true heir to Saint Andrew is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Tutu, now in his mid-eighties, has been a fearless voice of the voiceless and unstinting in his advocacy of compassion, non-violence, and justice for the oppressed. He has not always been popular, especially among those who benefit from an oppressive status quo. Yet the universally good news of Tutu’s message has caused him to be showered with hundreds of honours by both secular and religious bodies. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, being cited for his “”role as a unifying leader figure in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa”. He received the Templeton Prize for Religion in 2013 for ” “his life-long work in advancing spiritual principles such as love and forgiveness”. Last year he was made a Companion of Honour by HM the Queen.
In 2006 on the occasion of Tutu’s 75th birthday the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev’d Samual Kobia, wrote in his letter of congratulations to Tutu:
“You have challenged and pushed us never to adjust to the powers that are, but always to discern the signs of God’s coming kingdom and to act accordingly…Through your work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, you gave this fractured and broken world a model for overcoming the wounds of past evils and for creating space for healing and reconciliation.”
Thank God for Desmond Tutu, a true bringer of good news for all.