Luke 2:1-20, Qur’an 3:45-51
Good morning and Merry Christmas! Welcome Home!
2016 has been a year of surprises – and most of them not good ones. For the past few weeks, I struggle quite hard to enter into the joyfulness of the Christmas season, especially when violence continues unabated, and a climate of fear hang over the future.
A few days ago, a journalist called me up, asking if we had made any special security arrangements for Christmas. I have to admit – I was rather surprised at the question. There was a moment when I panicked and started to think what we needed to do – and then it blew over and I thought to myself what good will it do for us to keep fanning the flames of fear.
This is the season of hope, this is the season to be joyous, this is the season to celebrate – this is the season because God is with us! We are celebrating the birth of Christ! What the world needs is not more fear, suspicion, and hate.
Some of you may be uncomfortable with the readings taken from the Qur’an earlier. Some of you may be surprised like I was 2 years ago on Christmas eve when my friend Imran sent a Christmas greeting to us with verses from the Qur’an.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.” – Luke 2:13
“Peace on him [Jesus] the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life (again)!” – Qur’an 19:15
Wishing my Christian friends a blessed Christmas. And I join you in this occasion in commemorating Jesus, may peace be upon him!
He attached a photograph of the Cathedral-Mosque in Cordoba, commenting that it is a heritage of both communities – a testament to our intertwined past, through the person we revere as Jesus Christ, and as communities of faith under One God.
Despite my involvement in interfaith work, it was only when Imran sent that Christmas greeting to his Christian friends that I come to know that the Qur’an has a whole chapter named for Mary and the Qur’an has an account of Jesus’ birth.
I consulted Imran before including the verses from Qur’an and he told me, “Muslims regard Christians as closest in love among the believers, according to the Qur’an. Hence, celebrating the figure of Christ is not alien to the Muslim tradition. Prophet Mohammad was also reported to have said that he is closest to Jesus, and Jesus received several mentions in the Qur’an.”
I included the readings from the Qur’an because more and more people have used religion to divide us.
Christians and Muslims have an intertwined, complicated past. As much as there were friendships, there were conflicts. But that is the past. We can continue the story of violence and strife, or we can be part of the story of forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.
During Jesus’ time, both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders taught that it was wrong to have any contact with the opposite group, and neither was to enter each other’s territories or even to speak to one another. Numerous violent confrontations between Jews and Samaritans were reported by Josephus the historian throughout the first half of the first century.
But what did Jesus do during his encounters with Samaritans? He healed a Samaritan leper, and he initiated conversation with a Samaritan woman.
Brian McLaren, wrote in his article “The Christmas Message We Need”:
“He (Jesus) didn’t rise to prominence along the normal alpha-male route of threats of eye-for-eye revenge, but by way of nonviolent resistance, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation.
He didn’t win followers by false promises, threats, or manipulation, but won their respect through his nonviolent example, courage of convictions, clear message, and personal character.
He didn’t preach an us-versus-them narrative or scapegoat “the other,” but moved toward the other in a spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness and self-control.”
Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us – is the embodiment of love, joy, peace, and justice
Throughout the Bible, including in the Christmas story, we are told “Do not be afraid.” The archangel Gabriel told Mary, “Do not be afraid.” The angel who appeared to the shepherds told them, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus told us, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”
I am a follower of the prince of peace, the light of the world. I will not allow fear to cast a shadow on the joy and celebration. I will not allow unwarranted suspicion to overcome hope, joy and love, because if I do, then those who seek to divide us, and to sow seeds of conflict and violence and hate, win. No.
The whole point of Christmas is this – that God’s love is bigger, wider, deeper than we can imagine. There is room for all. There is room for everyone here. First Realise Everyone’s Equal – It doesn’t matter what your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your religion, your economic status is. Our love for each other – like God’s love for us – should not be predicated on whether we agree with each other, or whether we are the same or how we are different. There is always room here.
And I will proclaim Joy to the World for indeed the Lord is come!
“Into this world,
this demented inn,
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ has come uninvited.
But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is out of place in it,
and yet he must be in it,
his place is with those others for whom there is no room.
His place is with those who do not belong,
who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited,
who are denied the status of persons,
With those for whom there is no room,
Christ is present in this world.”
– Thomas Merton
We celebrate today God-with-us
beyond our words, beyond our images,
for we know God is beyond those things.
But today we find joy in the image of God coming to us in the form of the Christ child.
We sense God’s presence in creation and in the immensity of our universe,
in the incredible display of life on this planet,
and in our consciousness of something far greater than ourselves.
As Christians we rejoice in the birth of Jesus.
In Him we see the fullness of possibility to make God visible in our lives.
Like all of us He grew in wisdom as He aged.
He questioned. He searched for meaning.
He shaped his convictions.
He experienced love and came to know love’s connectedness with God.
He stood firmly in His own religious tradition and preached good news to all people dreaming of a better humanity.
We rejoice that He taught us not to imagine a manipulative, intervening God, but one who is as close as breath and as soft as a whisper,
yet as powerful in our lives, drawing us towards good.
We rejoice that Jesus led people to discover the sacred in the ordinary,
in the lowly, in everyday life,
in human yearnings to be better people,
and in being neighbour to one another.
Bread and wine,
the fruit of earth and the fruit of the vine.
He gave us these to keep us connected to the story:
We remember the night before He died,
according to our tradition,
when He shared a meal with His friends.
Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it.
(Bread is broken)
He poured out the wine.
He gave thanks for all the blessings in His life
honouring the God so faithfully present
in His life and ours.
(Wine is poured)
“Do this remembering me.”
We break bread as Jesus did remembering
the call to love generously and faithfully,
whatever the cost.
We pour out wine remembering
our responsibility to be bearers
of forgiveness, tolerance, and understanding.
– adapted from: A Service of Holy Communion at Christmas by Jane Keener-Quiat
May these ordinary things be blessed.
For they represent both the ordinary and the extraordinary
as Jesus calls us to follow him.
Here is the bread of life, food for the spirit. Let all who hunger come and eat. Here is the fruit of the vine pressed and poured out for us. Let all who thirst now come and drink.
We come to make peace. We come to be restored in the love of God. We come to be made new as an instrument of that love. All are worthy. All are welcome.
The Lord’s Prayer from
the New Zealand Prayer Book
Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever.