I was in Bethlehem a couple of years ago just after Christmas. Although it's the city of our Lord's birth, Bethlehem is a tense place, situated as it is in the West Bank, so close to Jerusalem, in the midst of seemingly unresolvable religious and political conflict. Two students and I were walking to the Church of the Nativity and a Palestinian police officer had some fun at our expense. It was nothing serious, just annoying, and we went on our way. As it turned out, the church was temporarily closed for the evening. We were pretty disappointed, as our time in Bethlehem was limited. As we stood outside the church milling around, another police officer began calling to us. He and yet another office were at the bottom of a long stone staircase leading down to the street. They were both holding automatic weapons and he was motioning to us to come down. I have to say I was getting pretty nervous. So, we got down to the bottom of the steps, not really knowing what to expect, but still having a bad taste in our mouth from our last encounter with local law enforcement. What did this police officer want? He wanted to share with us a small fire that he had built beside the sidewalk. It was really cold outside, we couldn't get into the church, and we were just standing there. So he invited us down for some conversation and warmth.
I don't know if they were Christians or Muslims, but that night, outside the Church of the Nativity, two Palestinian police officers, in spite of the fact that they were holding automatic rifles, managed to embody the hospitality, kindness, and gentleness that followers of Christ should emulate. I don't know anything else about them except for the few basic facts we were able to exchange across our language barrier, but that night it was Christmas.
Monday, December 13, 2010
God took on human weakness. This is a crucial aspect, though an oft-neglected one, of Christian theology. Consider the kenosis hymn of Philippians 2:5-11. Christ had the form of God, but did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped for his own gain. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. He humbled himself to the point of death... even death on a cross. He is exalted by God because he humbled himself. I encourage you as you prepare your messages in this Advent and Christmas season to think about the ways in which God's voluntarily self-emptying can shape the ways in which we think about ourselves in relationship to God and other people. Christmas is not just about a virginal birth and a child in a manger, though it is also about these things. It is about the Incarnation.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
I'm reading Rebecca Raphael's very fine book, Biblical Corpora: Representations of Disability in Hebrew Biblical Literature (T & T Clark, 2008). In this work, she makes a very interesting observation: “[T]he classical liberal emphasis on autonomy assumed a standard, able, adult body and said virtually nothing about the presence of disabled persons in the body politic; and postmodernism has reveled in a representational body subject to infinite choice and pleasure, as if the choices of real bodies were not constrained.” It's interesting how we assume that our efforts toward individual autonomy and liberation actually accomplish what they envision, when in fact, there are always gaps in our perspective.