Our God is a sending God.
Of all the things we associate with Advent, I suggest that "mission" should be at the forefront. After all, the Advent season, its characters and its readings, are ripe with sending. The angels are sent, the shepherds are sent, dreams and visions are sent at the first advent. And even if we think ahead to the 'advent' of Jesus' ministry, we see John the Baptist sent ahead of Christ to "prepare the way". At the heart of all this "sending" is the sending of God's own self in the person of jesus. "For God so loved the world", the familiar bible passage tells us, "that he sent his only begotten Son". Sending - mission - is a result of God's love for the world.
The Incarnation, the birth of Jesus, is the story of God sending himself into our world out of love. It strikes me then that mission is both an imitation of God's own activity, and a form of love. This may not be our first notion of mission; the word may carry baggage, or our enthusiasm for mission may be dampened by stereotypes of our own or others' making. But this is what mission really looks like in Advent:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
First we have the angel Gabriel sent by God to Mary, to announce this "good news", which of course at its outset might not seem like good news at all. But herein lies the heart of revelation: there is speech from God's side to our side. And then Mary, if you will allow the image, carries Christ to her relative Elizabeth. Mary brings the good news - quite literally - with her as she greets her kinswoman. And there is the wonderful response of John the Baptist in Elizabeth's womb. The child "leapt for joy" when he heard Mary's greeting. I like to think of Mary as the first Christian missionary - the one who first brought Christ to another, and the response was joy.
Perhaps we need to ponder Mary's visit. Our own fears about "bringing Christ" to others often center around fear of what their response will be. Will they "leap for joy", or will we receive the deadpan brush off? I suppose that is God's dilemma as well. How will we receive the One whom he sent? God sends because he loves, and this too needs to be the motivation for our mission.
I'm going have this as the focus of tonight's "Advent conversation" with bishop Jane. I'll update later,& see if there are further reflections on Advent as mission.