In the comic strip Peanuts, Charlie Brown is lamenting that Linus will have to go to school twice as long as others…in order to unlearn everything big sister Lucy (mis)taught him! This humorous aside reveals something important: sometimes we have to shed wrong ideas in order to understand the truth of any matter.
The Advent Season and celebration of Christmas is a wonderful time to reflect on the Incarnation of the Almighty, the arrival of Jesus as God with us. We are astonished at the mystery of Mother Mary nursing her Creator and Redeemer. We offer our worship as we join with the angelic hosts proclaiming peace with the birth of our Lord and Savior. As we, like Mary, treasure in our hearts the profound truth that the crèche of Bethlehem will soon yield to the Cross of Calvary as Jesus atones for the sins of all humankind.
It is also fitting that we unlearn a few things about this moment in history:
- Joseph, Mary and Jesus were not homeless and poor. They we returning to their ancestral home for the census and found overcrowded conditions leading to modest lodgings in a barn. Jesus’ upbringing would be classified today as an artisan, small business owner or working class.
- The Wise Men from the East arrived about 18 months after the birth of Jesus in an entourage of scores of people. These were Persian leaders and scholars alerted to Messiah’s birth by heavenly signs.
- Christmas as a Christian holiday has been controversial from the 4th C to the present, with many rejecting its materialism and syncretism with winter solstice celebrations. As late as the mid-19th century, many churches and even states in the USA has no official Christmas Holiday!
- Jesus is born in a geography that was a crossroads of the continents and cultures. Though considered a country backwater by the Roman Empire, Judea was in fact a place of deep learning and tradition in Judaism as well as a locale where the Greek was the marketplace language and Roman Law provided stability.
Celebrating Christmas is good. Adapting local cultural expressions into Christian worship is accepted by most around the world. As we enjoy this Season, it is fitting to renew our covenant with the Lord and share this Good News with a confused and rebellious world.
Here are some thoughts connecting political, religious conviction and prospects for peace:
We must remember that our Christian faith arises from the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish history. Underneath our beautiful Nativity are the trials and triumphs of Chanukah, that moment of Jewish liberation from pagan powers and consecration of the Temple in 164 B.C.
Just over 2500 years ago, a remnant of Judah rebuilt a modest Temple and here the Lord promises to send the Desire of Nations (Haggai). This moment in 516 fully ended the 70 years of exile for a people that had built Jerusalem as their capital in 1000 B.C.
In 1917, one century ago, the Balfour Declaration supported a Jewish homeland in their ancient geography…and in 2017, the USA declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Peace will only ultimately come when our Lord returns. But as peacemakers, we are called to welcome the future reign of God into the present. Here are the keys to Middle East stability:
- If they want a sovereign state, Palestinian leaders must affirm Israel as the home of the Jewish people and recognize her national integrity within defensible borders. This will require courage and good personal security!
- Israel must protect all religious rights and be open to an East Jerusalem capital of a new Palestinian state.
- A new Palestine must renounce terror and agree to diplomatic and economic exchange.
- A handful of Arab nations must agree that a secure Israel and a new Palestine at peace will help resist the hegemony of Iran and her terrorist agencies.
- The best brokers of this are Christians from both the Middle East and the West.
The Bible enjoins us to pray for the shalom of Jerusalem. May our leaders find courage and wisdom and may we never give in to hatred.
I am very concerned with the triumph of emotivism in academic/intellectual circles. Critical thinking is not confined to a culture, gender or race. Critical thinking needs new attention so our dialogues move us toward truth, and, where possible, principled compromise on policies. Please friends, let’s be unafraid listen with humility and observe with objectivity.
In our polarized world, there two things that offer hope:
- shared encounters in community worship; and
- shared engagement in God’s work that renews our communities. God’s presence expands our hearts in holy love and practical work expresses our unity in service.
For centuries, human beings have sought meaning. In our century, we are debating the meaning of being human. Grateful for the Biblical story that offers identity and hope, humility and purpose.
Lord, please heal us.
Heal our hearts: touch our deepest wounds as use us as emissaries of compassion.
Heal our heads: liberate our minds from captivity to crowds and release fresh thinking.
Heal our hands: deliver us from selfish motives and methods and unleash innovation and integrity for the common good.
Lord, heal our land, one prayer, one kind word, one sacrificial act at a time.