Advent Reflection: 9th December - Tom Wright

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Every day this Advent we will be sharing reflections from Christian authors. Today's is by Tom Wright.

Eden Advent Devotional

Praise and Thanks to the Creator: Revelation 4.6b–11

'6bIn the middle of the throne, and all around the throne, were four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind. 7The first creature was like a lion, the second creature was like an ox, the third creature had a human face, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. 8Each of the four creatures had six wings, and they were full of eyes all round and inside. Day and night they take no rest, as they say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who Was and Who Is and Who Is to Come.’

9When the creatures give glory and honour and thanksgiving to the one who is sitting on the throne, the one who lives for ever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall down in front of the one who is sitting on the throne, and worship the one who lives for ever and ever. They throw down their crowns in front of the throne, saying, 11‘O Lord our God, you deserve to receive glory and honour and power, because you created all things; because of your will they existed and were created.’

Scientists and anthropologists have often asked them- selves, ‘What is it that humans can do that computers can’t do?’ Computers, after all, can play chess better than most of us. They can work out answers to all kinds of questions that would take us a lot longer. Some people have boldly declared that, though at the moment computers can’t do quite everything that we can, they will one day overtake us. The writer David Lodge wrote a powerful novel on this theme, entitled Thinks . . . The heroine eventually discovers the answer: humans can weep; and humans can forgive. Those are two very powerful and central human activities. They take place in a quite different dimension from anything a computer can do. But without them, we would be less than human.

A similar question is often posed: ‘What can humans do that animals can’t do?’ Again, some scientists have tried to insist that we humans are simply ‘naked apes’, a more sophisticated version of apes perhaps, but still within the same continuum. This is a trickier question than the one about computers, but to get straight to the point: in our present passage, the main difference is that humans can say the word ‘because’. In particular, they can say it about God himself.

Consider the two songs of praise in this passage, the first in verse 8 and the second in verse 11. The first one is the song which the four living creatures sing round the clock, day and night. They praise God as the holy one; they praise him as the everlasting one. The four creatures deserve our attention for other reasons, too. They seem in some ways to resemble the seraphim who surround God in Isaiah’s vision in the Temple (Isaiah 6), and they are also quite like the four creatures of Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 1). They represent the animal creation, including humans but at this stage with the human-faced creature being simply one among the others, alongside the king of the wild beasts (the lion), the massive leader of tamed animals (the ox) and the undisputed king of the birds (the eagle). (In some early Christian traditions, these animals repre- sent the four gospel writers, so that Matthew (the human face), Mark (the lion), Luke (the ox) and John (the eagle) are thought of as the living creatures who surround, and worship, the Jesus of whom they speak.) These remark- able creatures seem to be not merely surrounding God’s throne but ready to do his bidding. Twice John tells us that they are ‘full of eyes’: unsleeping, keeping watch for God over his whole creation.

Now, of course, I know he was right. Worship is what we were made for; worship with a because in it is what marks us out as genuine human beings.

The song of these living creatures is simply an act of adoring praise and thanks. We are meant, reading this pas- sage, to see with the Psalmist that all creation is dependent on God and worships him in its own way. That alone is worth pondering as a striking contrast to how most of us view the animal kingdom. But the contrast with the 24 elders is then made all the more striking. Creation as a whole simply worships God; the humans who represent God’s people understand why they do so. ‘You deserve’, they say, ‘to receive glory and honour and power, because you created all things.’ There it is: the ‘because’ that distin- guishes humans from other animals, however noble those animals may be in their own way. Humans are given the capacity to reflect, to understand what’s going on. And, in particular, to express that understanding in worship.

Worship, after all, is the most central human activity. Certainly it’s the most central Christian activity. When I was a student, many of us busied ourselves with all kinds of Christian activities – teaching and learning, studying scripture, evangelism, prayer meetings and so on. We went to church quite a lot, but never (I think) reflected much on what we were doing there. There was, after all, a sermon to learn from, and the hymns were good teach- ing aids as well. It was a time of learning and fellowship. When a friend suggested at one point that worship was actually the centre of everything, the rest of us looked at him oddly. It seemed a bit of a cop-out.

You can find more reflections for Tom Wright in Advent For Everyone: A Journey with the Apostles (SPCK, 2017).

Tom Wight

Tom Wright is Research Professor of New  Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews. He was formerly Bishop of Durham. He is the author of over  seventy books, including the For Everyone guides to the New Testament and the bestselling Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, Simply Jesus, How God Became King, Creation, Power and Truth, Finding God in the Psalms, The Meal Jesus Gave Us, Surprised by Scripture and Simply Good News (all published by SPCK).

 

9th December

December 9th, 2017 - Posted & Written by The Editor

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