07 January 2016

All the difference in the world

Creche in Bethlehem's Manger Square
Today is Christmas Day here in Russia. And now for a quick survey of Christmas Day news headlines:

'Dozens dead' as Libya police targeted ... Fake life vests marketed to desperate refugees ... Man shot on Charlie Hebdo anniversary ... Gunmen fire on tourist coach in Cairo....

Once again, my favorite Quaker text on Christmas. (George Fox, 1657)

We must not have Christ Jesus, the Lord of Life, put any more in the stable amongst the horses and asses, but he must now have the best chamber, the heart, and the rude, debauched spirit must be turned out. Therefore let him reign, whose right it is, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, by which Holy Ghost you call him Lord, in which Holy Ghost you pray, and by which Holy Ghost you have comfort and fellowship with the Son and with the Father. Therefore know the triumph in the Seed, which is first and last, the beginning and ending, the top and cornerstone.

In front of Ramallah's Holy Family Catholic Church

What difference does Christmas make in the real world, with insults and bullets flying in all directions? To put it more personally, how does Jesus's birth change the way I view the prospect of yet another year of this violence?

George Fox's words (quoted in the sidebar) are a help. First of all, the holy birth must be something I know personally. God is in the world, offering reconciliation to a world that often doesn't seem to want it. So: Do I want it? Will I turn out the rude spirits and let Jesus into my best chamber?

Then the hard part: will I go on to let him rule? Will I "know the triumph in the Seed..."? Will I bear witness to this triumph even as I also witness what we humans keep doing to each other?

Knowing the triumph means something very concrete: I must not participate in this reduction of others into objects, targets, collateral damage! This is the difference I myself can make.

Back when I was preparing for being on Father Yakov Krotov's talk show on Christian responses to the Paris attacks, I was reviewing Paul's teachings in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 on the ministry of reconciliation. At the heart of the passage is this amazing call to public witness:
...God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation
But this time, as I read, another claim from verse 16 jumped out at me as never before: So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. We regard no one as outside the bounds of reconciliation. And no one is allowed to force us to regard people as so hair-raisingly awful, scary, other, that we are freed from the ministry of reconciliation.

When God, through Paul, defined our charge (the ministry of reconciliation) and the parameters (we no longer regard anyone from a worldly point of view), oppression, occupation, terrorism were all daily realities. Jesus, whose birth we celebrate, had himself been publicly humiliated and cruelly executed. There is beauty in the incarnation, there is amazing hope in the very idea of Godly reconciliation ... but there is nothing sentimental. If you and I persist in letting Jesus determine how we look at others, and refuse to see them as enemies, refuse to become afraid of them, refuse to participate in targeting them, life will become more ... well ... complicated.

But we're not alone! As ways open, let's talk to others about whether Jesus is inviting them into ministries of reconciliation. Hopefully, we're not stupid: the Lamb's War is no joke. We know that some of those we formerly saw as enemies from a worldly point of view really do mean us harm. But together we can figure out how to confront the rude, debauched spirits that animate hostility, and distinguish those true enemies from the people they hold in bondage. We can learn together what it means to make room for Jesus. In the midst of today's serious but passing alarms, this is work that is for eternity. That is worth both risk and celebration.

And every Christmas we can take time to remember the birth of God's offer of reconciliation, now embodied by us!

I'm serious about doing this together. What is the right scale, the best forums, for consulting on this task of turning out the rude spirits, learning to see others from God's point of view, and giving Jesus the best place in human hearts? Can yearly meeting structures still serve?

Micah's New Year's pledge.

Here are two commentaries on the Wheaton College controversy over Larycia Hawkins and her witness of care for Muslims ... casting a balance in slightly different ways, but both helpful: Karen Johnson, Mark Woods. Is this controversy (among its other serious dimensions, including the professor's own job prospects!) a laboratory for the work of reconciliation?

What do people think they mean when they call for Islamic reformation?

The Syro-Phoenician woman meets the living Word of God.

Whose Christmas rites? (And the town with three Christmas days.)

Fair or unfair? ... How to decode evangelical testimony.

Linux and open source have won, so get over it, because apparently Microsoft and Apple have.

How the Soviet Union sent its first man to the Internet in 1982.

How Delia Derbyshire created the original Doctor Who theme.

"I said 'get back Satan get out of my way,' I heard the angels singing ... just when I thought my soul was lost, I heard the angels singing ..."

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