by Terry M. Smith
God is at work in human history even if his ways are confusing—this is one lesson of Advent.
The prophet Isaiah said that God, who had made a covenant with Israel, was at work even though the nation had sinned and would enter exile. He who had created the heavens and earth, and gave breath to people, would bring forth his Servant: “My servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1-5).
In the midst of its failure Israel was told of the Servant: “I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:6-7). Mentioned in several passages, the Servant is a mysterious, varied figure—partly Israel and partly faithful Israel, partly the Church and ultimately Jesus.
Light and freedom shaped Jesus’ earthly ministry (Isaiah 9:2; Matt. 4:16). Jesus said that he was the Lord’s anointed sent to preach good news, free prisoners, help the blind, and release the oppressed (Luke 4:17-21).
Isaiah said of the Servant: “In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope” (Isaiah 42:3-4). The servant Christian Church, drawing on the faith of Israel, has carried the message of the Servant Jesus to many islands around the world. Changes have happened (and, in the struggle with sin, sad events too).
Our 65 churches, forming one part of Christ’s Church, are engaged in many ministries in our communities, regions, provinces, Canada, and beyond. In mission work alone, about 95 EMC workers serve in about 26 countries on five continents within about 95 people groups in 45 languages. These represent the workers processed by the EMC Board of Missions. Our local churches also support dozens of other missionaries who serve locally and wider. Such acts reveal faith and hope.
Outnumbering cross-cultural workers by far, rank-and-file believers in our common—not lesser—work and life form the bulk of Christ’s agents of light and freedom in his world. Pastor Ernie Koop of Steinbach EFC recently preached a series on Christians and work (see Eccl. 9:10; Col. 3:23).
There is much to be done. Justice and peace often elude us (Amos 5:11-14) and disasters both natural (fire and flooding) and unnatural (war) remind us that we are frail and broken and creation is hurting. Even as God reminds us that he is our Father, we await our bodies’ transformation and creation’s liberation (Rom. 8:15-23). Much remains to be fulfilled by Jesus. Meanwhile, we serve because of our Lord, responding even to famine, earthquake, and war (Matt. 24:7).
We await another Advent (coming): “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him” (Rev. 1:7; Dan. 7:13-14). The Church awaits, prays, and works toward the day when “the Kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).