In December of 2012, Lavone and I were in Bethlehem on what is called Manger Square as the town prepared for its annual lighting of the Christmas tree that marks the official beginning of the Christmas season. The irony of this did not escape us: at or near “ground zero” for the first Advent, are all the elements for the world’s destruction. Sadly neither that part of the world nor the world as a whole have moved closer to the way of the One whose birth we celebrate, the Messiah we welcome. If anything, tensions run tighter and deeper, conflicts rage, and current events suggest anything but peace and goodwill.
Just prior to Advent 2015 and since, a major world city has been rocked to its foundations by a calculated terrorist assault. In the last week, San Bernardino and the U.S. as a whole has been rocked by similar terror. No doubt many wonder if it could happen “here” where we are.
If these alarming crimes stand in the foreground, in the near background we see the deepening crisis of displaced persons, not only from across the northern and southern borders, but also now from across the seas, as multitudes flee for their very lives to wherever they may find shelter. As the world responds to the crisis, pressures mount among us to “do our part.”
Then, in the more distant background, but still easily perceptible, we see continuing unrest and discord growing out of deeply rooted bias of one sort or another. Several trials of police officers for crimes against persons of color have just begun or soon will to remind us of a low-grade crisis that could escalate wildly given the right or wrong circumstances.
Now in the middle of it all are a dozen or so political campaigns gearing up for another electoral season that sometimes at least feels more like a surreal version of the “hunger games” than serious attempts at statecraft seeking to determine and realize the common good. Two responses to these current affairs gaining traction are violent reprisals and the closing of borders and opportunity to outsiders.
Followers of the Messiah, whose birth we celebrate, must not be distracted by these current events and the most common ways people react to them. We welcome the coming of God whose ways are not our ways and whose means are most unconventional. In fact, our God’s ways and means require our God to show us, if we ever hope truly to get it. And, precisely that is what our God does, in giving Messiah Jesus to the world.
So, as we celebrate Jesus’ coming and as we make response to the deeply troubling circumstances of our times, and as we evaluate the persons who offer themselves for leadership and their proposals, we must heed what God actually shows us in the gift of the Messiah to the world.
Among other things, when Jesus Messiah begins his ministry he announces the presence of God’s Kingdom and then demonstrates and teaches the ways of that kingdom. He absolutely insists on this kingdom’s way, even if it killed him which it did. Jesus shows that the power of the kingdom is the power of self-sacrificing love that would rather die than take the life of others. At the center of Jesus’ kingdom, and way of life, we find this kind of love.
I know that advocating for this love this does not answer many specific questions that confront us. But here is something else I know. Whatever answers we offer, as his followers, we must somehow relate them to this core value of his kingdom—a determined commitment to Jesus’ way of self-sacrificing love in daring trust that such love, in the end, will overcome the powers that oppose it. This commitment does not settle the question about whether and under what circumstances Christians may use force and violence against perpetrators. This commitment does not settle the question about whether there may be times when one moves away from others and their ways in the interest of safety and security. Indeed, this commitment to Jesus’ way of self-sacrificing love doesn’t answer many questions.
Still this commitment, which seems essential for all who seriously follow Jesus, does help us. For example, if self-sacrificing love is at the heart of the Jesus’ movement, and there are times when force is appropriate and even essential, then these times will likely be rarer than not and carefully considered rather than simply reactionary. Candidates or proposals that run counter to this should be suspect.
For another example, if self-sacrificing love is at the heart of Jesus and yet there are times when we move away from others, then these times will be exceptions to the rule and rare in occurrence. Normally, we would embrace those in need and seek to help, even at our own cost or to our own hurt. Doing otherwise should be notable exceptions to our most common practice.
Recently, Jerry Falwell Jr., President of Liberty University, responded to the string of terror attacks in the news by calling upon his students to take up arms to “end those Muslims,” to which his audience offered their applause. In commenting on Falwell’s remarks, Joe Boyd noted,
“I can only assume … (this is a) version of Jesus taught at Liberty and students there would also stand and applaud. (But) this Jesus is as extreme as the other version (that many see in the Bible), just in a different way. He’s radically non-violent and a relentless advocate for the poor, outcast and disenfranchised. This Jesus teaches his followers to live radically risky and peaceful lives in the name of love. This Jesus modeled what he preached by being obedient to death on a cross. … (To) those of us who have come to follow this sort of Jesus … the idea of killing our enemies is so foreign to the Jesus we know that it feels remarkably un-Christian.” (for the full article see: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-boyd/the-coming-evangelical-schism_b_8730010.html )
In the New Year such questions will come under greater consideration. But for our particular tribe within the global followership of Messiah Jesus, the mission is to love God fully, to love others selflessly and sacrificially, and to make disciples of others who do the same. We do not check the mission at the door in times of crisis or threat. We re-up for the mission, pledging our fidelity to the One who gives it, and trusting that, as for him so with and through us, such love wins the day. This is the Messiah we welcome!