Advent Two: Beijing

Sunday, December 6th

by Janet Gear

“Open my eyes,” began the sermon this morning based on verses 24-27 of Psalm 119 – a particularly poignant prayer for our team as we approached another day in which this unfathomable country confronted us again in all its complexity.

Warmly welcomed at the worship service at Haidian (the name of a district in of Beijing, the “Silicon Valley of China”) Christian Church, we joined 1,400 other worshippers for the third of seven services of that size that day.  As guests, we by-passed the queue and were seated at the front of the contemporary (2007) sanctuary where we had a clear view of the 30 member choir, three piece band, chancel full of donated food for the collection at Thanksgiving, an advent wreath, the 40 worship leaders who would serve communion later in the service, and the guest preacher.  Behind them all, a screen the size of a small movie theatre projected the service beyond the front rows.  We followed the service through bilingual hymnbooks and simultaneous translation.

“Open my eyes,” the preacher suggested, is a prayer for an open mind and open heart – a prayer for the humility necessary to be confronted and changed by God’s truth revealed in Jesus.  What better prayer for a westerner in China, I wonder?

And just when communion had made the strange familiar, the announcements at the end of worship reminded us otherwise:  “The church will celebrate the lighting of the Christmas tree on the street tonight at 5pm.  This is a government sanctioned activity so all are encouraged to attend.”  Attend we did, in the hundreds, in the chill of the late afternoon, a joyous and festive concert including Christmas carols and prayers, and Amens, not likely to have been “sanctioned” by public opinion in most Canadian communities.

Between the experiences at Haidian church that bookended our day,  we found ourselves on the Great Wall of China – the 2,000 year old 100,000km barricade against invasion from the north, now said to be a symbol of peace and friendship.  It is not where any of the delegates imagined we’d be spending Advent II but being welcomed to put our feet on stones laid 2000 years ago, half way across the earth, brought another ancient community to mind – one that gave birth to the salvific story that has taken root here – a gospel of peace and of a truth that confronts us in the Word made flesh.

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