Jesus said, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark” – Jn 12:46
Christianity is Christ-centred, guided, and guarded by a Spirit-inspired written Word -The Bible, history (His story), and teachings. In essence, the foundation of Christianity is firm, ‘bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity” (2 Tim 2:19). In one of my books, Stop the Funeral: Reverse Methodists Decline published in 2017, I described the world as increasingly becoming a pagan crowd. The description is based on the 1945 report ‘Towards the Conversion of England.’ The report spoke of our ‘pagan atmosphere’ and how the church is now overwhelmed by the attack of Babylonian pagan culture and crowds. In his book, Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land: The Future of the Church in Britain, A Methodist Perspective, Tom Stuckey, a past President of the British Methodist Conference and former Chair of Southampton Methodist District ‘contends that Britain is a modern Babylon where mammon reigns. The Church has unconsciously absorbed the values of Babylon on its structure and strategies with the result that it has ceased to be prophetic. It has become a public utility offering cheap grace to a consumer public looking for peace and security in troubled times. Only after a radical repentance, at all levels of its life can the Church recover its integrity and grow.’
The Census 2021 data revealed that Christianity became a minority religion in England and Wales. The problem is not just that many do not follow the religion. We are in a dangerous and infantile state of faith and of preachers and preaching; hence, many have abandoned the Christian truth, and false teacher may have made their way into the church. Advent and the church in 2023 assured us that the “foundation of God” – the true church- cannot be destroyed. Those who are faithful to God and desire to be helpful to the Master in 2023 and henceforth must have a sure “foundation” in Christ and “depart from iniquity.”
In the face of our present family and church decline, despair, and persecution, believers have an anchor that keeps the souls of our Christian homes, churches, and nations. Jesus, the steadfast and sure Anchor while the billows roll, remains the Rock of ages that cannot be moved. It is no longer news that our churches are declining, and Christian faith is wilting in our country, the United Kingdom, and other parts of the world. The truth is that self-help cannot cure our self-inflicted decline of the church and leadership.
In some contexts, Christmas is perceived as a ‘Western holiday’ because ‘it is heavily influenced by its highly commercialised image from Western media and enterprises.’ However, Advent Gospel encourages us not to give up as a church or as a nation, regardless of any labeling of Christmas or Christianity in general. Instead, we are to awake from our slumber and pride to live out the incarnational life of Jesus Christ. To awake is to help us relearn what Advent Gospel teaches about our hope, peace, love, and joy ONLY in Jesus.
The engagement or betrothal of Joseph and Mary comes to mind. Engagement or betrothal, in Jewish culture, was a formal bond between a man and a woman, almost as binding as marriage itself, yet without physical intimacy. Thanks to God for the virgin birth and atoning death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Mary and Joseph were betrothed or engaged but did not live together during that engagement period. Just as Joseph woke up from his fear and quiet disengagement from God’s will to put Mary away quietly, Advent Gospel calls the church in 2023 to awake from our quiet and public disengagement from God’s Word (Matt 1: 18-25). The church today is not only disengaging from God’s Word quietly but publicly to promote its human agenda and cultural dominations.
Advent and the church in 2023 tell us that, with Jesus’s birth, the veil between this world and the next is lifted. This world is vanity. Heaven and hell are real. We must make a choice. Scriptural Christianity is not about political influence or cultural domination but a prophetic call to repentance and renewal. The multicultural and secular carryovers and labels of globalisation in the redefinition of our culture and theologies cannot work with Scriptural Christianity. Using the words of Tim Stanley, ‘Christianity used to be part of the package of being British, like tea and Shakespeare. As Britain changed, becoming multicultural and secular, it was inevitable that people would rewrite their labels along with it’ hence, the cultural domination of secular Christianity.
Nevertheless, Scriptural Christianity is not, and never was, ‘a collection of inherited customs.’ No amount of rewriting, redefining, or relabelling can change the nominalism and banality of our multicultural and secular Christianity and culture without genuine repentance. Stuckey warned us in 2017 that ‘the Church in Britain has absorbed Babylon into its system. Unfortunately, ours is a comfortable Babylon which has lulled us to sleep.’ Advent Gospel to the church in 2023 calls us to wake up just as Joseph awoke from his fear and quiet disengagement from God’s will.
The recipe for our deep sleep and arrogance is REPENTANCE, a change, reorientation, and renewal that ‘we are living here now as aliens and only for a time.’ Indeed, ‘Home is Heaven. This life is a foreign land.’ Stanley correctly says that Christianity is ‘a set of beliefs that, with grace and hard work, are meant to transform the believers.’ At a time and culture when the life of the church is under the captivity of increased secular legislation regarding risk and safeguarding, the church has become ‘a form of religion without the power.’John Wesley’s mission and bloodless revolution in the 18th century give us a renewed perspective and what we need to learn again from the Great Awakening. Advent Gospel for the church in the New Year 2023 calls for a repeat of how Methodism unleased an army of “little Christs” all over Europe. Advent and the church in 2023 are about revival again. It is about the faith of our fathers and mothers coming alive again.
Like the old jeremiads, God calls believers in the New Year 2023 to draw inspiration from the Bible and ancient history. In the Book of Isaiah, the prophet notes that the nations of Israel had fallen away from God. Isaiah prophesied from 739-681 BC to a proud nation that had turned a deaf ear to the Lord, committing injustices throughout the nations and, at the same time offering meaningless sacrifices in God’s name and temple. Advent Gospel to the church in the New Year 2023 calls on the people who walk in darkness to see a great light, Jesus Christ. ‘For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light is shine’ (Is 9:2).
The nations of Israel were like a stump, though not entirely dead. From it would spring a shoot that would eventually bear fruit, predicting the birth of a Messiah. Advent Gospel is the hope of the church and our nations in the new year, 2023. The First and Second Coming of Jesus Christ encourages us that ‘even the darkest age can be conquered by light.’ Jesus is the True Light for the New Year 2023.