I spent most of the year in the developing world with particular reminders of Ethiopia, Swaziland, and Kenya. I observed for the first time a Church working underground in a hostile political and religious environment. I was both amazed and startled by the harshness of religious bigotry and the courage of people who have made commitments to follow a Savior that if publically declared could lead to persecution or even death. I have known persecution and have known of these threats, but I have never before witnessed what a persecuted people are willing to do in order to give their faith expression. In a stark and famine defined area, they share their food, their water, and what little possessions they have to give witness to the redemption they have experienced. Their story begs to be told, but alas, must remain silent to the outside world for fear of retaliation. In one community I visited, if the Government knows you are a Christian, government officials might deny you water.
Early on in my last journey into Africa, I listened to Wintley Phipps’ interpretation of Rise Up Shepherd and Follow. A haunting call summoning listeners to leave the familiar and to follow a star that will lead to hope and promise. I decided in early December to make this my theme for Advent. Rise Up Shepherd and Follow – You will forget your flocks and your herds, as the song calls us to follow him where ever he might lead.
Rise up is a call to action and if you take good heed to the Angels words, you will leave behind your sheep and lambs. The tension between Rise Up and Leave is not easily resolved. It certainly defies some of the sentimentality often associated with the Christmas holidays as families come together. As I both wrestle and embrace this theme for Advent, it has produced a restlessness that is not easily calmed. Rise Up can take on so many different expressions:
- Speak when others are silent
- Go to places where others refuse to go
- Forsake blind allegiances to things of this world whether they are political, social, economic, or religious
- Taking a stand to be on the side of the poor
- Forsaking the comfortable lives of ease we have created and begin practicing a life of compassion and action
From a myriad of interpretations, each of us must sort through the meaning of Rise Up and Follow. But, to all of my friends and family, I urge you to ask the question – what will it mean for us in this new year, to truly respond to the star in the East and the call of the angel – Rise Up and Follow. I think the answer for each of us will certainly be different – but it could be the difference between joy and sadness, hate and love, peace and conflict. I urge you to listen and then to Rise Up!
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