We’re entering a season of promises. The Christian season of Advent – the 4 week build up to Christmas – is an opportunity to reflect on many things, not least that the Christian God is one who keeps His promises; even if to say that may seem counter-intuitive given only the shortest glance at the world around us. The story of the Bible is of God being faithful, His people being faithless. One of the most potentially scandalous passages of Old Testament scripture is of God telling one of His servants to take a prostitute for his wife and allowing her unfaithfulness to be a sermon illustration. Imagine a 21st century pastor getting that one past his accountability group.
Taking the long view, it’s easy to think ourselves into a place of greater faithfulness than the people of Scripture who are so fickle in their love for God. We mustn’t be too hard on them, though. For a while they were plunged into a period of prophetic silence with only ancient stories and promises to keep them going. When would God come? When would they be free? It’s no surprise, then, that many of God’s people missed God incarnate even when He was right in front of them. Besides, are we really good at believing God’s promises, and would we have been then?
Take this one:
“I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. “Never again will there be in it infants who live but a few days…” (Isaiah 65:19-20).
That would have seemed a poignant and ironic one in Bethlehem as Herod had weeks old baby boys put to death in a jealous rage (Matthew 2:13-18). It’s there nonetheless, though; when the Messiah finally comes, such a thing won’t happen. Really, sobs the desolate mother? Really, echoes the reply.
So goes the human temptation to judge God. Look at what happens around us? How are we supposed to believe you now? It’s time for you to show your power, we scream or sob.
Show your own, comes the chilling reply.
In 2000 the world’s leaders committed themselves to the Millenium Development Goals. These were a set of promises which said to the world’s poor ‘We see you. We see your situation. We commit ourselves to doing something about it.’ There has been some progress. That’s good.
Not everywhere, though. South Africa, where I live and work, hasn’t made forward progress on two of these promises – to reduce maternal mortality and infant mortality. In fact it’s got worse. Much worse. In most of South Africa’s communities the grieving of the young families of ancient Bethlehem still echoes.
The difference is that this isn’t murder. Something can be done about this. So with two years until these promises need to be made good on, some of us saying that the time is now. There’s a global movement of Christians called Micah Challenge, which takes a cue from God’s words to the prophet Micah (Micah 6:8). The expression of this in South Africa is for ordinary people to make their own promise, and to commit to them with simple photos taken of them with their promises. Children have promised to bake cookies for medical professionals. Adults have promised to do sponsored walks and donate the proceeds to NGOs Adults and children have promised to fast and pray. The end result will be to join these promises together and then present them to the country’s leaders as a reminder and a challenge to live up to the promises they made themselves.
We’re entering a season which invites us to trust that God’s promises mean something. Make that a challenge for yourself, and those who lead.
A big hat-tip to Craig Stewart of Micah Challenge SA for a lot of the input to this post. Find out more about Micah Challenge International and its expression in your country here. See some of the promises made by ordinary South Africans here, and learn more about the campaign including how to add your voice, promise and picture, here.