‘Our Heavenly Father’ – praying to the Abba of Advent

This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.

In chapter one of The Lord and his Prayer, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) N.T. Wright says that when we come to our personal place of prayer, among other things, we are coming to “lay hold of the love of God which has somehow already laid hold of us,” and that in our heart of hearts, we want to know and love him, and be able to truly call him Father.

However the author also encourages us to ask what was going on in Jesus’ life when he called God Abba, Father, and taught his followers to do so too? What can we learn about who Jesus was and is, as well as about the mission of Jesus and all who Jesus taught to share in this prayer to Abba? According to Wright, the word speaks to revolution and hope - the hope of Advent. True, the Lord’s use of the word Abba in the prayer reveals a new level of personal intimacy with God, but Wright also says the word drew into one point the vocation and salvation of Israel, noting
The first occurrence in the Hebrew Bible of the idea of God as the Father comes when Moses marches in boldly to stand before Pharaoh and says: Thus says YHVH: Israel is my son, my firstborn; let my people go, that they may serve me (Exodus 4:22-3). For Israel to call God ‘Father’, then, was to hold on to the hope of liberty. The slaves were called to be sons.
When Jesus tells his disciples to call God ‘Father’, then, those with ears to hear will understand. He wants them to get ready for the new Exodus. We are going to be free at last. This is the Advent hope, the hope of the coming Kingdom of God (Pp 14-15).
According to Wright, this revolutionary, kingdom-bearing meaning is reinforced by another strong echo of the use of the word ‘Father’ to listeners in Jesus’ world - a promise to King David, and also to the whole people - Messiah would appear and bring liberty to an Israel that is in bondage.
God promised to King David that from his family there would come a child who would rule over God’s people and whose kingdom would never be shaken. Of this coming King, God said to David, ‘I will [be] his Father, and he shall be my Son’ (2 Samuel 7:14). The Messiah, the King that would come, would focus in himself God’s promise to the whole people. And in Isaiah this promise, though still affirmed, is thrown open to all God’s people. ‘If anyone is thirsty, let them come and drink….and I will make with them an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David’ (Isaiah 55:1,3)… The two pictures go together. Freedom for Israel in bondage will come about through the liberating work of the Messiah. And Jesus….is saying to his followers: this is your prayer. You are the Messianic people (Pp 15-16).
Wright reminds us that though the Jews had still clung to that Exodus-hope through the centuries, they had also grown weary and longed to see the promises fulfilled.
‘Surely you are our Father’, says one of the later prophecies, ‘though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us’ (Isaiah 63:16)….in other words….the things we thought were so secure have turned to dust and ashes; yet we cling on to the fact that you are our Father, and that fact gives us hope where humanly there is no hope…. Most Jews knew in their bones, because they celebrated it at Passover and sang about it in the Psalms, that freedom would come when God gave them the new, final Exodus. Many believed that this would happen when the Messiah came. The very first word of the Lord’s Prayer says: Let it be now, and let it be us. Father….Our Father…. (Pp 16-17).
Spiritual depth and renewal do come to the followers of Jesus, but Wright reminds us that they come as part of a larger package - the Advent package - which itself is about deliverance from evil, return from exile, having enough bread, and about God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven, and this package was arriving through his own work.

Such was the significance of using the word ‘Father’ as Jesus did in his prayer - that the Father and Son were engaged in a project that was “Nothing less than the new Exodus, rescuing Israel and whole world from evil, injustice, fear and sin.” But look around. We too live in a world of injustice, hunger, malice and evil, and the people cry out for deliverance, justice, bread, and forgiveness.