‘Our Heavenly Father’ – Praying to the Abba of Advent
This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.
In The Lord and His Prayer, N.T. Wright says the word ‘Father’ in the prayer Jesus taught his followers (the Lord's Prayer) calls our attention to the revolutionary message and mission of Jesus that is the real Exodus message -- the message of the defeat of tyrants, oppressors and evil. It is the Father’s revolution that comes through the suffering and death of none other than the Messiah who is the Father’s Son. Wright says our Lord taught us this prayer because the Advent message is that the Father’s revolution comes through the Messiah and his followers “sharing and hearing the pain of the world, that the world may be healed” (p 19).
In John’s Gospel, Jesus uses the image of father and son to explain what he was himself doing. In that culture, the son is apprenticed to the father. He learns his trade by watching what the father is doing. When he runs into a problem, he checks back to see how his father tackles it. That’s what Jesus is doing in Gethsemane, when everything suddenly goes dark on him. Father, is this the way? Is this really the right path? Do I really have to drink this cup? Wright comments:
The letter to the Hebrews says, with considerable daring, that the Son "learned obedience by what he suffered" (Heb. 5:7-9; compare 2:10-18). What we see in Gethsemane is the apprentice son, checking back one more time to see how the Father is doing it.... The daring thing about that passage in Hebrews is this: Jesus too, like us, went on learning what it actually meant to call God ‘Father.’ And the learning process was only complete when he said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." (pp 18-19)Wright calls our attention to the end of John’s Gospel in which Jesus says to his followers: "As the Father sent me, so I send you" (John 20:21), and then describes the tension and confusion of our living between the first Advent (the Incarnation) and the second Advent (Jesus' return in glory):
That apparent confusion, that overlap of the first and second Advents, is actually what Christianity is all about; celebrating the decisive victory of God, in Jesus Christ, over Pharaoh and the Red Sea, over sin and death -- looking for, and working for, and longing for, and praying for, the full implementation of that decisive victory. Every Eucharist catches exactly this tension. "As often as you break the break and drink the cup, you proclaim, you announce the death of the Lord -- until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). We come for our daily and heavenly bread; we come for our daily and final forgiveness; we come for our daily and ultimate deliverance; we come to celebrate God’s kingdom now, and to pray for it soon. That is what we mean when we call God ‘Father’ (pp 20-21).
Thus when we call God ‘Father’ we are children who are learning (like apprentices) how to discover a pattern of spirituality and a way of “penetrating into the mystery, of daring to enter the cloud of unknowing” in stepping out into a terrifying world of pain and darkness (including, Wright reminds us, the darkness inside our own selves), as sons and daughters called to “be the people through whom the pain of the world is held in the healing light of the love of God” (p 21).
In the midst of such pain and suffering we pray not for the selfish pursuit of private spiritual advancement or to get in touch with our own feelings, but rather we discover the desire and necessity of praying, "Father, Our Father; Our Father in heaven …. may your name he honored." That is, "may you be worshiped by your whole creation; may the whole cosmos resound with your praise; may the whole world be freed from injustice, disfigurement, sin, and death, and may your name be hallowed." And as we stand in the presence of the living God, with the darkness and pain of the world on our hearts, praying that he will fulfill his ancient promises, and implement the victory of Calvary and Easter for the whole cosmos -- then we may discover that our own pain, our own darkness, is somehow being dealt with as well.... It is the rhythm of standing in the presence of the pain of the world, and kneeling in the presence of the creator of the world, of bringing those two things together in the name of Jesus and by the victory of the cross; of living in the tension of the double Advent, and of calling God ‘Father’. Our task is to grow up into the ‘Our Father’, to dare to impersonate our older brother, seeking daily bread and daily forgiveness as we do so: to wear his clothes, to walk in his shoes, and to feast at his table, to weep with him in the garden, to share his suffering, and to know his victory. (pp 22-23).Blessings to you all during this Advent season!