(I’m taking part in the Twitter #adventbookclub, reading “Beginnings and Endings” by Maggi Dawn. Some days there will just be a simple thought / tweet, if I can get it into 140 characters; other times a blog post for longer thoughts; whether these are more coherent or not I’ll leave my readers to judge.)
Today’s Bible passage from Genesis 12 continues the story of Abram, immediately after his call to leave Haran, describing his early experiences in the land that would eventually be known as Israel. Maggi Dawn notes that Abram himself is in no hurry to settle down but leads a nomadic existience, and reminds us that God’s promise is not just about the land but about heirs, descendants, a nation.
I think these two things come together quite nicely in the way that the promise is given: “The Lord said ‘to your offspring I will give this land'” To Abram’s offspring, not to Abram himself. I don’t know about you, but if I had been Abram part of me at least would have wanted to reply “so why is it me doing the hard work – why couldn’t I have stayed in comfort, and leave the wandering to those who are going to benefit?”
How do we feel when we have to put in a lot of hard work, suffer discomfort, knowing that it is someone else who will benefit from this, and perhaps not for many years to come? It is good that Nelson Mandela was able to see the fruits of his struggle: an end to apartheid, democratic elections. But what about those who died without knowing these freedoms?
This is one of our biggest challenges: to follow God’s call and do God’s will, even though we may not gain anything personally; and even when we think we might be more effective somewhere else doing something – still in God’s service – that is more congenial to us.
But during this time of Advent, there is another consideration: as well as preparing for Christmas, we look forward to Jesus’ second coming and the end of the world. Sunday lectionary readings include the Gospel passages about this, about judgement, and the need to watch and be ready.
So how do we hold together this tension between the need to work and suffer hardships in order to bring about better conditions on earth that may not happen for many years, and the call to watch and be ready for the end of the world ? If that happened, would our work be meaningless?
A quote attributed to Martin Luther is “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today!” We do the right thing and continue to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing; it is what God calls us to do. To misquote the title of a book, “The Meaning is in the Working”.
It is in doing so that we grow in the awareness of God’s presence with us, so making the next steps of our call a little clearer – something Abram himself experienced.