If your Christmas is not merry and bright, if it’s blue instead of red, or if it’s lonely instead of a joyful family; just know that it’s absolutely fine. There’s nothing wrong with you or with your Christmas.
The birth of Jesus Christ had nothing to do with such things in the world that He was born and lived in. Instead, the Scriptures show us it was stark and bleak, though not without a ray of hope. Even after the birth, Jesus and his folks had to deal with constant dangers and foreboding, as a refugee family on the run, crossing risky borders while authorities demanded papers and they had none to show.
The Bible talks about a Jesus who comes into the world of violence, fear, misery, poverty, colonization, and injustice. It is in this world that He came naked, homeless, and as one for whom there was no room in anyone’s house or heart. Jesus’ early life was lived as a vulnerable refugee in Egypt at the mercy of strangers who took his family in and provided for them during their sojourn there. Therefore, Jesus Christ can come to you today in your own vulnerabilities and needs and in your lonely space of a godforsaken mess. It was made possible not because of the manger or the cradle but through His cross. May we run to the Cross and find forgiveness, love, mercy, and comfort in whatever situation you find yourself in this Christmas in 2022 on in the new year.
In my past thirty years or so of studying and working with Asian, African, and Western theologies and theologians, I have often noticed one thread. Whenever we discuss theologies from the so-called “third world” or “developing” nations, I have often felt many of my western friends quickly want to warn us non-westerners about the lurking dangers of syncretism and potential heresies in the theologization emerging in the majority world. They also raise questions about the lack of discipleship or the shallowness of the faith of new believers who have come to the Kingdom of God as a result of some incredible Christward movements witnessed among various people groups. However, as is often the case, we get our blinders on when looking at our culture, Christianity, and the status of discipleship.
Here’s an example of how blinders often work. Christian nationalism, which is a misnomer in itself, has led many in the west and particularly in the USA to believe that a politician is not only a savior from their political, social, and economic mess, but also a God-sent religious savior, an avatar or an incarnation of God! You may brush it aside as a fringe element and go your way, satisfied that your Christian country can never engage in such a heretical thought. However, you will do so at your own peril. At a time when, a scientific survey by the Pew Research Center predicts a continuous decline, one cannot ignore why the faith is evaporating in the west:
“If recent trends in religious switching continue, Christians could make up less than half of the U.S. population within a few decades…U.S. ‘nones’ will approach majority by 2070 if recent switching tends continue,”
A book has recently been published, crystallizing this belief in a politician as the religious savior that people have been looking for, that is replete with biblical citations to justify their wild theological claims. The title is: President Donald J. Trump, The Son of Man—The Christ. Yes, you read that right, and no, the author claims it is not a satire!
Of course, you do not have to be a theologian to recognize it as a heresy, as no educated Christian who has been discipled well would agree with the statements of its author of South African origin, Helgard Müller, that the “son of man” in the Bible is now incarnated in Donald J. Trump. The author, who is basically trying to make a quick buck, argues that there are two Christs – the son of man and the son of God, with Jesus being the son of God who was betrayed by Judas and Trump being the son of man who was betrayed by Mike Pence. Müller will indeed make more than a quick buck (even the kindle version is US $19!) as he knows it too well that millions of Christians who are biblical illiterates would buy anything that glorifies their political hero and justifies it with “biblical prophesies,” which cannot be located in the Bible if one takes the trouble of opening and reading it. That is why Müller has been going to all the rallies of Trump with his trailer and signs, enthusiastically marketing this book and personally handing out or mailing free copies to social influencers such as Candace Owens (see Muller’s Facebook page).
Maybe the publication of such books will help us see our own cultural and theological blinders and take our responsibility for discipleship more seriously than we have done in the past.
Epiphany is the manifestation or revealing of Christ celebrated in the Church tradition to commemorate the arrival of Magi from the East to pay their homage to Jesus and to offer their gifts made of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. However, this manifestation or epiphany of the Messiah would not have been possible without the arduous journey and trouble that these Magi undertook to seek and find the Messiah. Therefore, to me, the Epiphany is a reminder of the journey that you and I are on.
We must embark upon this journey by ourselves. There can be no proxy journeys! We cannot find the God Incarnate through someone else’s journey. We may have stories of others seeking and finding God and we must certainly learn from their experiences. However, one must decide to commence their own journey toward God. And God has offered in the past and continues to offer specific firsthand experience to those who seek Him. God promised through the Prophet Jeremiah:
Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart….
Jeremiah 29: 12-13 NRSV
In the New Testament, too, the writer of the Epistle of James encouraged us saying,
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
James 4: 7-8 NRSV
Second, this journeying toward God is a lifelong quest. And there will be time on this journey of drawing near to God where we will find ourselves in troubles and even dangers just like the original Magi who ventured out on a long journey full of challenges including the threat from the political leaders of the time. However, they journeyed on until they found the Messiah. And they were willing to disobey king Herod to flee from Israel through a different and uncertain route. So, despite our challenges, notwithstanding where in our journey we may be, let us resolve along with the Apostle Paul, who after several decades of being on several strenuous missionary journeys, said:
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Philippians 3: 12 NRSV
Lastly, in our journey toward the Almighty Creator God, the giver of Life, we will encounter all sorts of people who are at different stations of this journey. Since you have come so far or you have achieved great milestones, that others are still striving for, that should make you kind toward others. Let us resolve to offer help to those who you find tired on this journey. There may even be some who are bogged down with the unnecessary baggage they are carrying on this journey toward God. It could be the baggage of their culture, traditions, family background or upbringings. Let us resolve to be a source of encouragement to these fellow travelers on the road to seeking God, especially to those are exhausted for several reasons and want to give up the journey altogether. There may be people who are in the process of deconstructing their faith on this journey. You and I may not fully understand them and their quest, but we can decide to be empathizing and encouraging them and come alongside with them. Let us be people who root for them and encourage them to press on toward God.
No words of explanation are needed. Just listen to this young theologian speak her heart out and let’s ponder on what she believes and the way she articulates her faith. May God bless her abundantly. May you and I have a faith like hers. Amen.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”And He called a child to Himself and set him before them,and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18: 1-4 NASB)