Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.
“As the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us, the good news is proclaimed to those who are on the wayside, the shepherds, people who are the riff raff of society. In the gospel of St Luke it is said, ‘Do not be afraid.’ It is the Bible, it is not ideology. Black theology is not ideology. It is the bible that says that Jesus takes side with the stinking, the riff raff of society.”
Professor Vuyani Vellem
Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa)
Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo, (May her spirit rise high up)
Yizwa imithandazo yethu, (Hear thou our prayers)
Sibe moya munye (To be united in one spirit)
Noma sekunzima emhlabeni (Even through hard times in this world)
Sihlukunyezwa kabuhlungu (When we are painfully abused)
Nkosi siph’ amandla okunqoba (Lord give us strength for victory)
Silwe nosathane. (To fight the devil)
Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika – the decolonised version.
This version of Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika became one of the protest songs of the student movement called “Fees Must Fall” starting in 2017. It was “decolonised” and reclaimed an old struggle song from the shackles of the “new South Africa” national anthem.
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Growing up, before I even knew what Advent was, this season was a season of expectation and hope for me. As a child of the Southern hemisphere, it marks the end of the school year and the beginning of summer holidays. There is expectation of warm evenings spent outside around the braai (South African barbeque) and lazy days on beaches and in the mountains. And all this accompanied by Christmas, the hope of presents, and once I had come to faith, remembering the birth of Jesus. It was most certainly a season of good news and anticipation.
Advent anticipates the birth of Jesus, the Messiah anticipated by Isaiah and described as the one who will bring good news to the poor. I am not poor. Even though there are moments when I feel “poor”, I am not. By any measure locally or globally, I cannot be categorised as poor. I’m also an older white South African man in a society that formed and sustained a conscious and unconscious idolatry of whiteness and maleness, giving me tremendous advantage and power in the world I live and function in.
“King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.”
Herod was deeply disturbed by the news of Jesus’ birth because he understood that his power, privilege, and wealth would be challenged and eroded by Jesus. Jesus is good news for the poor and as a result, he can be experienced as bad news by the wealthy, privileged, and powerful. Herod and the residents of his palace are deeply disturbed, the rich young ruler is sad and the religious leaders are offended and angry. And so it is with me, that I often encounter this good news and my response is to be offended, disturbed or saddened. When that happens, rather than receiving and embracing it, I reject it as false or evil and try to destroy, eliminate, and ignore it as contrary to the gospel.
However, as people who have some level of wealth, privilege, and power, we are not properly understanding or encountering Jesus’ good news unless it is subverting and threatening these things—unless Jesus is asking us to lay them down and die to them. The full fruit of Advent is only possible when we choose to pay attention to and embrace the good news which disturbs and subverts our wealth, power, and privilege.
My hope is that during this Advent season I will hear the good news of Jesus and that it will deeply disturb me.
Craig Stewart is part of a community of friends working at The Warehouse in South Africa. We work to see the church living out the peace and justice of God for the world. He prefers mountains and meals to twitter but can be followed @craigdstewart.