Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Divine Season of Hope

It’s been a tough year. Daily headlines bring new fears. There’s the growing threat of the Islamic State and its brutality, Syria, Ukraine, Ferguson, and the torture report, not to mention Ebola and weekly school shootings.

We’re in the midst of what we call “the Season of Hope.” As our center of attention becomes more about our fears, our hopes become complicated.

Yet the celebration of the Prince of Peace comes around each year at this time. The image of hope is the newborn in that manger surrounded by Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the barnyard animals all under a bright star. For Christians, that’s been true for two millennia.

But the hopes of the world might be better tied to an inclusive image of the birth of Jesus. As such, his birth could serve as a cause for hope for all humankind rather than simply a way to prove the exclusivity of the Christian message.

The birth of Jesus is the hope of all the world. The Gospel of Luke records that on that night, “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people.”

Hear that? “Good news” and “great joy” for “all the people.”

In Matthew, we learn “wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him." Two centuries of faulty scriptural interpretation have greatly complicated the relationship between Christians and Jews. Even so there is no questioning that Jesus was born, lived, and died a Jew, teaching from the Bible he read, the Hebrew Scripture.
Christians often cite Hebrew Scripture, what they call the Old Testament, as foretelling the birth. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6.

The Old Testament is the source of Jesus’s most fundamental teachings. Love God and love one another (Luke 10:27). Deuteronomy says, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” From Leviticus,  “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

In our times, the hopes for God’s world are complicated by relationships between people of different faiths. It ‘s been too easy to complicate our hopes by focusing on the behavior of “their” radical fundamentalists while ignoring our own. To do so diverts us from the actual teachings of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Those teachings each put great hope in the birth of Jesus and his teachings.

"Behold,” says the Quran 3:45-48, “the angels said, 'Oh Mary! God gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him. His name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter, and in (the company of) those nearest to God. He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. He shall be (in the company) of the righteous. God will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel.”

There are those who focus not on the birth of hope in that manger but on theological differences. It’s those differences that have, over the centuries, complicated our hopes. The hope for the world, through the birth of this child, requires sitting aside exclusive claims on him, while finding the universal truths in his teachings.  Then all will be guided by his Star.

That would be a divine source of hope.

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