Into a small village in an obscure province of the first-century the Roman Empire, a baby is born during a census. His parents are part of the artisan class, neither “dirt poor” nor “filthy rich.” His birth sparks some local and regional interest as pious Jews in the Temple and humble shepherds declare the dawn of a Messianic Age. Babylonian and Persian scholars journey for months and honor this toddler with lavish gifts. King Herod, a despotic and paranoid appointee of Rome, reacts to a potential rival with a killing frenzy targeting under two-year-old children. Undoubtedly the census helped his soldiers carry out this inhumane task.
Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure and the subject of adoration and disdain, deep loyalty and religious animosity. The Gospel records offer enough tantalizing details without the exhaustive data 21st century folks crave. Jewish and Roman sources affirm his existence and importance, especially as a catalyst for a rift in Judaism. His first followers were devout Jews. Their affirmation of Jesus’ Messianic office and Lordship led to expulsion from synagogues, persecution from Roman leaders and the formation of a new faith that now includes both Jews and Gentiles as equals.
Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ conception and birth. For his followers, it is the dawn of a new hope, the inauguration of a new age of salvation that will reach its fulfillment in Jesus’s crucifixion and bodily resurrection and its consummation with his glorious return in the future. The surprising and transformative news is that there is forgiveness of sins, empowerment for holy love and deep assurance of eternal hope available now, even as final salvation is yet to come.
The audacity of Christian hope is that all who believe enjoy favor with God and deep peace, new fellowship and a sense of divine mission right now. Our eternal security unleashes passions for purity and service. Though final redemption awaits Christ’s return, substantial “providential increases” (John Wesley) are possible today, from personal life-change to social transformations.
Let’s welcome our Lord with awe and humility, wonder and willingness to change. As we allow this real hope to permeate our lives, we join with god in the reconciling of all things.
Global lovers of liberty face an implacable enemy that believes that they are destined to subjugate the world in the name of Islam. Yes, most of our Muslim neighbors reject this intolerant and violent ideology, but their religion has no reforming stream powerful enough to counter the dedication of both Shi’ite and Sunni radicals.
It is up to people of conscience – of all faiths or none – to rally wisely with the future of freedom at stake.
In the USA, the Left and Right are both failing is their responses. Here are some reflections to create a different kind of dialogue:
Compassion and strength are not opposites.
Resisting ISIS, Hamas, Al-Qaeda will require both.
Without losing our values, we can devise military and political resistance that is more than an occasional foray.
I challenge the Left to realize that there are millions of folks – not economically deprived and oppressed – that want our destruction. “Love and peace” banners are not enough. Wishing away the hatred of those dedicated to our demise will not make it so.
I challenge the Right to end jingoism and offer strategic ideas for alliances and long-term effective action. We must not descend to the level of the enemies we face. It is possible to love our enemies even as we resist their hatred and violence.
I challenge oil-rich Islamic nations to welcome millions of refugees in the name of their hospitable religion. A Silicon Valley Imam recently agreed with me that given the wealth of many Islamic nations, there should not be a single Muslim living in poverty.
“Can’t we all just get along?”
Sometimes the answer is a tragic, “No.”
But Christ offers a divine, “Yes!” to all who repent…and that is our greatest “weapon” – gospel love and truth that transcends culture, ideology and national interests.
Reactions are easy.
Reflections require patience and prayer, research and analysis.
American political conversations are poisoned with clichés, generalizations, recycled 1960s slogans and polarization.
There is a better way.
Here are some thoughts for our future:
Facts are inconvenient.
They ruin our ideological myths and narratives.
Critical thinking and empirical research are being buried under an avalanche of propaganda.
Dear friends on the Right,
Human history everywhere is a sinful record of conquest and power seeking.
It is also filled with saintly, sacrificial exceptions worthy of celebration.
Please be unafraid when facing our nation’s difficult history and current systemic injustices.
Dear friends on the Left,
Marxism is a bankrupt ideology and will never work in practice, for it suppresses individuality and crushes the spirit.
As you rightly critique institutional injustice, please do not avoid examining individual iniquity and use some of your energy to hold people accountable for moral actions.
Dear thoughtful friends, Instead of polemical screeching, how about prayerful dialogue?
Instead of hating Hillary and Donald, why not forge concrete solutions for freedom and safety (they are there waiting for discovery)?
Above all, let’s recognize that there are no lasting victories without moral and spiritual renewal and shared values.