Shadow King

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Work by the American artist Stephen Gambill.

It is very easy to shun, or walk away from, our shadows.  Those parts of us that we are resistant to recognise, let alone embrace.  Within each of us there are unresolved parts, areas of disquiet and suspicion, which feel like something ‘other.’

When these parts of us are more prominent than the sense we have of our true selves, our bodies and minds can become unhappy places to be.

The birth narrative found in Matthew’s gospel presents us with the Shadow King.  Nervous about maintaining his own power and authority, even amongst his own flesh and blood, Herod becomes the anti-hero in the story by not only seeking to subvert the Jesus story before it truly began, but by bringing the lives of innocent children to an end.  For what?  Blatant self-preservation.

Funnily enough, we don’t tend to let this part of the story slip into the nativity plays in churches and schools, but we keep to the happily ever after.  There is, however, something powerful in this.  The story simply declares that God sides with vulnerable powerlessness rather than immature and insecure power structures and individuals.  But let us not de-personalise this story to one of simply ‘rulers and authorities.’

My inner ‘Shadow King’ competes, criticises, judges, plots and seeks to devour anything that challenges my sense of privilege or superiority.  The more I fight him off, the more virulent and persistent he becomes.  The journey to freedom lies in inviting him to the table, and to gently question his fears and troubles.  We can be sidetracked from this task by fear of our darker sides, but we mustn’t.  We must remember that to embrace our darkness is the beginning of light’s influence, and of healing.  Understanding our fears enables us to hear them, recognise them and yet, choose a different path by being able to see an alternative way, beyond fear, into hope.

Herod stands in these ‘cosy’ and ‘tamed’ stories reminding us what happens when we don’t transform our darkness…we transmit it!  In the Advent wait for the coming King of Kings, remember that our Shadow King or Queen awaits his coming with suspicion.  But remember this:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
    the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
    no one will hear his voice in the streets.
2A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21     In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matt 12: 18 – 21)

We have everything to gain when the Messiah comes to us.  He comes with healing, wholeness, and redemption.

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The Advent wait…

carolservicelightsSo far it has been a lovely start to Advent, and a good balance of activity and reflection, worship and witness.  I’ve been enjoying the depth of longing found in the Old Testament as I’ve explored various passages of scripture that outline the Messianic Hope the people had for a good King to reestablish and rule on David’s throne.  I find their unshakeable hope fascinating and am convinced that the weight of our longing for Christ’s second advent is somewhat less that the wait for his first. I find myself waiting and longing to for him to come into every moment, every conversation, and every opportunity.  I wait, too, for his coming in glory.

Yes, that’s right.  I’m one of those who believes he will come again, with his Kingdom in all its fullness.  I believe in a new Heaven and a new Earth that will come, established by God…yes, literally.  I also believe that what we do in the here an now builds towards that great revelation of God’s ultimate Kingdom.  His Kingdom come, his will being done.  It is one of my biggest motivations – that Christ will take everything, every wholesome thing, and that it will last through eternity and count in heaven.  I believe in Jesus’ mission to restore, renew and rebuild all things as it moves towards the climax of his coming again.  I pray for his coming; I long for it.

Might seem a bit futile to wait, but thats what the discipline of Advent is.  I realise, too, that many throw out any notion of Jesus’ second coming at all.  I understand how people’s rational mindsets would want to discount the idea, and I understand how inconceivable it can all seem.  I think that was very much the case for those who waited a long time for the first coming (advent), so much so that many of them didn’t believe it even when Jesus was on the scene…as John says, ‘he came to his own, and his own didn’t know him’.

But for me, Christian hope lies in the promise of the fulness of his Kingdom.  Without it, the whole Christian ‘project’ is nothing but a social programme with a set of cumbersome religious ideas.  Yet, even for those who can’t get their faith to include these ideas, the message of the wait is powerful.  In the mess of the world nothing resolves quickly.  We wait at every turn for healing, peace, and for goodness to flourish.  We still await for the world to reflect Jesus’ ideas of the Kingdom in the here and now.  In fact, it seems to me that the wait for these things in the here and now seems a much taller order than God’s wholistic action in the future and for eternity!

Wait for Jesus at every opportunity.  Pray for his coming, in whatever way your understanding allows you to…and allow the promise to settle in your heart that God might show you just something of his bigger picture.