EBF Christmas Message

EBF Christmas Message

Tony Peck, General Secretary - December 23, 2013

Right at the beginning of this Advent season I was privileged to hear the great German theologian, Jürgen Moltmann, now aged 87, speak at a 'Catalyst Live' day organised by BMS World Mission here in the UK.

Moltmann is of course famous for his 'Theology of Hope' and the way in which our future hope in God's coming kingdom inspires and enables us to work to see that Kingdom begin to be built now, in the present time. Moltmann develops what for me is the Biblical emphasis, that our vision of God's promised future draws us onward in our journey of faith and discipleship in the most challenging of circumstances.

Jürgen Moltmann told us something of his own experience in this regard. Taken a prisoner of war by the British at the end of the Second World War and sent to various camps in the UK he experiences despair and loss of hope in how own situation and that of his country. Handed a Bible by an Army Chaplain in a POW camp in Scotland he began to read the psalms and found there both an echo of his own despair, but also the hope in God which reaches into the situation of hopelessness and promises something new and transformative. This personal experience lies at the root of this theme of hope, which runs through all of Moltmann's theology.

It was difficult to write fast enough to get down all the things he said about hope when I heard him speak recently, but here is the way the BMS Report on his address put it:

“Hope is anticipated joy in God, in life, in love,” legendary theologian Professor Jürgen Moltmann told capacity crowds at Catalyst Live events this week. Expanding on one of the central themes of his career, Professor Moltmann said that confident hope was “stretching out to what is coming, in readiness for a fresh start.”

In a dense, poetic, often moving address, Professor Moltmann asserted that the Christian hope in the future is not like the utopias of some political ideologies or the apocalyptic visions of some forms of religion, because we look forward not to an end of things, but to a beginning. “We can say yes to the future whatever may come, in the light of Christ’s Resurrection,” he said.'

In this season of hope, which is Advent leading to Christmas, these words about hope are very meaningful. I think of situations in the EBF where it is difficult to keep such hope alive. The regular emails from Mouner Ajji, pastor of the Baptist church in Aleppo who has described the tragedy and intense suffering of the people of Syria, and says that for the second year this will be a 'very strange Christmas'. But that church stays there to witness to Christ the light of the world who is even born in to the destruction of the streets of Aleppo. Hope is also being kept alive by Baptists in Lebanon and Jordan who are doing an amazing work of bringing comfort and relief to some of the millions of Syrian refugees. Please pray for them, and for Pastor Mouner and his people. The opportunity remains open to send a gift for Syria to the EBF to be channelled through one of our partners working with the Syrian refugees.

When we see even a flicker of hope kept alive in such situations we know that the Christmas message is real; that Jesus is indeed 'Immanuel - God with us' even on the most challenging situations where evil and suffering seem to be all around.

In other ways in the EBF we are seeing hope, to use Moltmann's words n terms of ' stretching out to what is coming, in readiness for a fresh start'. This is especially true of the move of our IBTS Seminary from Prague to Amsterdam. Despite not all the practical issues being resolved yet, there is a real mood of hope and expectation that 2014 will see a new start for IBTS in Amsterdam, along with a new office base for the EBF. Please pray for the newly appointed IBTS Rector, Stuart Blythe, as well as the current staff who have to manage the changes; that with all the immediate challenges of the move, IBTS will continue to be a central place of learning and encounter in the life of the EBF.

On behalf of the Staff and Officers of the EBF I pray that you may 'abound in hope' this Christmas time, and also beyond that into wherever God may lead us in 2014.

Wishing you a very Happy and Blessed Christmas

Tony Peck
EBF General Secretary

Photo: Nativity scene, Prague Castle. Jiri Jedlick