Posted on Dec 31, 2013 in Theology blog | 2 comments

Posted by Jack Irwin

Again, today I was reading my Daily News as I was eating my warm oatmeal.  And right on the front page were two examples of people and organizations who persevered in pursuing faith, justice and mercy.  Wow!  Can you recognize religion on the front page?  Or, if it does not use the words “religion,”  “Jesus Christ,” “Christianity” or “church” is this religion veiled to you?

One article was titled “World bids farewell to a “giant of justice” — Nelson Mandela laid to rest yesterday in his home village of Qunu, South Africa.  Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the UN, praised Mandela as a “giant for justice.”  Our President praised Mandela as “the last great liberator of the 20th century.”  We remember the 30 years that Mandela sat in prison, under the Apartheid Government of South Africa.  How could a man who is claimed as a liberator do this sitting in prison?  What perseverance in pursuit of justice, to be willing to take even the evil thrown at him.

Yet, what struck me as even more important, was Mandela’s own commentary on his imprisonment:  that it changed him.  Was this the cauldron that created the Mandela who came out of prison to reunify white and black in South Africa, who visited the wife of the prime minister of South Africa who had imprisoned him?  Is this where he learned that it was important to forgive his enemies, even those who imprisoned him, even those who felt the guilt and shame of the Apartheid system they devised and supported?  Mandela’s change in prison was obviously spiritual, one who believed evil could be defeated and who believed that people who were so entangled in evil without knowing how to get out of it could be released through forgiveness and charity!  We could lose sight of these astounding lessons, if we just focus on honoring the man and calling him a liberator without saying how he liberated both Afrikaans and black Africans in South Africa.  Mandela’s was a preserving obedience in the long direction.

The other article was titled, “Street Prostitutes — one-time vice cop now works to get hooders off the streets.” Stephanie Powell, a former teacher and LAPD officer for 20 years who headed up a Vice Unit at LAPD, is going to work with the Mary Magdalen Project in Van Nuys, CA (the area known as ‘The Valley’).  Now, the bells went off in my head!  There is no religion mentioned in this article; not a word about faith, Jesus, God, Church.  But every Christian should take notice when reading the words “Mary Magdalen Project.”  That should remind you of Mary of Magdala, a small town on the Sea of Galilee, who came into the Pharisee’s house where Jesus was a dinner guest and poured expensive perfume on his body and wiped his dusty feet with her tears and hair, and heard Jesus say to her, to the astonishment of the Pharisees, “Your sins are forgiven!”  (Obviously, the Pharisees saw the blasphemy in Jesus words, for only God could forgive sin and that could only happen through offering a sacrifice at the Jerusalem Temple.)

Now back to today:  The Mary Magdalen project was described in the article as a “private 30-year old social agency” convincing prostitutes to get off the streets, away from the pimps and into a healthy life.  Anyone who knows anything about the history of Presbyterianism in the Los Angeles area knows that The Mary Magdalen Project is a Presbyterian founded project.  It was started in 1980 with a grant from the organization of “Presbyterian Women” and was led for many years by a local Presbyterian pastor Rev. Anne Hayman.  You can go see the wonderful work and real-life stories of saved women on their website at  Two years ago we hosted Rev. Hayman at a seminar on Women At Risk and Sex Trafficking as part of our Adult Eduation program we all “Life Academy.” This is another Christian program of a long obedience in the same direction, not arresting prostitutes and pimps in sting operations like the LAPD does, but in saving those caught in its web, patiently and perseveringly, one by one.

Yesterday, the pastor spoke in his sermon about the faith of a Christian being a long-journey of persevering obedience in the direction of Jesus, the Christ.  How long and persevering was Moses, the liberator of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.  How long and persevering was the faith of the Jewish remnant who were waiting for the Messiah?  Just read the Christmas stories in Luke:   Simeon and Anna who worshipped God at the Jerusalem Temple when Mary and Joseph presented the babe Jesus, praising God that the deliverer had been born.  Read about the Magi from Persia in Matthew’s Christmas stories, who recognized that the King of the Jews had been born and came to worship him across over a thousand miles, trekking months to get to Bethlehem.  But I think we miss the point of the Magi, since they knew that this child was not just another king, but was the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies of the “Messiah” that one would come who would be the King of kings and the Lord of lords (notice this one is the King and the Lord capitalized, who is served by all the other kings and lords) and not just of the Jews but of the world.  They came to worship the Messiah, just as 2 billion Gentiles around the world now come to worship the Messiah.  Read the prophecies and then read Revelation 20-21 for the consummation of His Kingdom when finally His Kingdom comes on earth in completion as it is in Heaven.

But the greater, and greatest, story of perseverance is that of the Lord God, the Creator and Sustainer.  Who said to Eve that her seed would strike the head of the serpent, the devil, thereby promising redemption and restoration of His Creation.  Who covenanted with Noah that not again would he wipe out the human race to start fresh but that he would work patiently to redeem his Creation.  Who promised to King David that one would come to rule over the House of David, whose reign would have no end, whose reign would bring peace, mercy and justice to a world torn by sin and evil, groaning for release, as Paul said.  Who promised through Jeremiah and Ezekiel that a time would come when the Law would no longer  be needed on stone, but would be written on every heart.  Who promised through Isaiah that one called the Suffering Servant would come, suffer and die to redeem us from our sins.  This is the story of Advent — this is the story of Persevering Faith — the Faith and Promise of God our Father — that He himself would come, not just sending another manly or womanly prophet or king, but the Lord Himself would come to redeem us all and creation.  And so we celebrate in this First Advent not just that the Lord Himself did come in the Babe Joshua, but also we celebrate in the First Advent the Lord Jesus who lived our life, who suffered our sufferings, who was “imprisoned” by evil like Mandela, but whose first Advent ended in Victory over evil and the forgiveness for sin on, of all places, a cross of ignominy.

And so we wait and persevere now in the “in between time,” between the First Coming, the First Advent, and the Second Coming, the Second Advent.  We wait with the glorious hope that we will see Him, even as He sees us.  That the redemption of the groaning Creation will be consummated.  That Heaven and Earth will once again be one, just as it was in the Garden of Eden when the Lord walked in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve.

Joyous Messiahmas!

Jack Irwin





  1. Jack, thank you for your thoughts and time on this subject

  2. Mandela apparently appreciated the distinction between Messiah and Savior. He used both, and, I believe, in the appropriate contexts:
    “The Good News borne by our risen Messiah who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language, who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind! Each Easter marks the rebirth of our faith. It marks the victory of our risen Saviour over the torture of the cross and the grave. Our Messiah, who came to us in the form of a mortal man, but who by his suffering and crucifixion attained immortality. Our Messiah, born like an outcast in a stable, and executed like criminal on the cross. Our Messiah, whose life bears testimony to the truth that there is no shame in poverty: Those who should be ashamed are they who impoverish others.”

    Or–is ours a Western-centric Christianity?

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