Reflection for Advent 2, December 9, 2018
Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6
Walking into the Lospalos hospital, we followed a trail of dried blood drops up the stairs, through a hall and across a dirty tile floor to the emergency room. We don’t do x-rays or casts at Clinic Immanuel so a few of us were taking a kid with a broken arm to the government hospital. My colleague put the child on a dingy examination bed. I stepped over some used gauze lying on the floor to hold him while the nurses put on a temporary splint. He had just fallen while playing on the church compound.
This boy is one of 12 siblings, all of whom are clinically malnourished. In all likelihood a well-nourished kid wouldn’t have broken an arm with the minor fall this guy took. As I stood holding this little boy’s arm, there was a palpable sense of defeat in the room. I witnessed a staff doing her best with what little resources she had, but nonetheless, with an affect of resignation. The place looked as if there weren’t a cleaner on staff. As it is, x-rays and casts require a trip to the referral hospital in Baucau. So after going to the child’s home to get the mom, the two of them climbed into the back of an ambulance for a 3-hour bumpy ride to Baucau, where they could get proper treatment.
I share the story above because Advent reminds us that the life and ministry of Jesus Christ unfolds within a specific socio-political context (Lk. 3:1-6). During Advent therefore we are invited to reflect on the socio-political context in which we find ourselves and ask what the gospel means in that context. Along those lines, my Advent devotional reading this year is the spiritual classic Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman. At the outset Thurman reminds us of some basic things about the world. “The masses of men live with their backs against the wall. They are the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed.” The Lospalos hospital testifies that is certainly the case in Timor-Leste. Thurman goes on with a simple question: what does the gospel of Jesus Christ mean to them? He’s not concerned with “…what it counsels them to do for others,” but rather, how it consoles and empowers them to be human.
I also appreciate Thurman’s observation that one of the spiritual perils of Christianity is the emphasis on helping others and in so doing making the dispossessed and disinherited the object of self-righteous “faith in action” at the expense of real relationships. This is a danger when people of privilege engage in mission or justice work of any kind. And that is why in the midst of the suffering we observe daily, I often remind myself that we’re not here to solve Timor-Leste’s problems nor those of our partner church. We’re not out for measurable outcomes or other commodifications of a relationship. We’re called to practice koinonia. Koinonia is the Greek word Paul uses to describe his relationship to the Philippians. It means sharing, fellowship, participation. That is, “sharing in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5). It’s a word that guides the kind of mission partnership we hope to embody. But most importantly, it’s an expression of the truth that the life of Jesus Christ is God’s koinonia with the masses who have their backs against the wall.
Tom and Monica Liddle serve with the Protestant Church of East Timor (IPTL). Their appointments are made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.