Peace, justice and Father Christmas!

A guest post for St Nicholas Day from Embrace the Middle East.

‘Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;

    righteousness and peace will kiss each other.’ Psalm 85:10 

Psalm 85’s concluding verses (vv.10-13) picture a bright future where God restores all that is not experiencing ‘shalom’. 

They proclaim ‘tsaddiq’ will be as present as peace when this day comes. This Hebrew word holds together ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’.

For many Christians in the West ‘righteousness’ has become associated mostly with personal purity. So we need the reminder that ‘justice’ is also emphasised in the scriptures whenever we see ‘righteousness’.

God is as concerned with our social systems as He is with individuals’ lives. So any vision of His kingdom that doesn’t seek a fair future for all has lost sight of true peace, and its Prince.

Why then is ‘peace’ more of a central theme at Christmas than ‘justice’ is? Because the latter shouldn’t jar with any of our celebrations of the coming King.

It will not help us if we tranquilise the kingdom by editing out its uncompromising hunger for justice. It will only further confuse and disappoint us. It will limit how much we experience true peace – and how we go about trying to build it.

Today is St Nicholas’ Day, and our modern depictions of Father Christmas are a good example of our tendency to do this.

Legend says the man behind the myth – the Bishop of Myra (a province now in Turkey) – actually gave his generous gifts to rescue the daughters of a poor man from being sold into prostitution. A far cry from typical depictions of Santa today!

In our vision of the kingdom, justice and peace must embrace as perfectly balanced equals. This perspective must shape all our prayer and action. That’s why we’re inspired when we meet Christians in the Middle East who model it so profoundly.

Hussein and Nadine Ismail are gentle, people of peace. But they are tenacious in how they apply their love and compassion for children and young people who need their help. The Learning Centre for the Deaf in Lebanon kindly but persistently challenges society and government about how much education deaf children can access.

To do anything less would be to neglect justice. It would limit the real ‘shalom’ those with hearing difficulties could hope to experience.

Let’s pray we will better express this same balance:

Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, who champions the flourishing of all, thank you that the bells which will sound this joyful season ring out the arrival of a kingdom of peace and justice. Amplify their message loud in the hearts of all Your people, here and in the Middle East, till we even better hear, and obey, their resonating call, Amen.

Sharing the Peace

Something to consider and discuss with others

  • Which do you think you typically prioritise, peace or justice, and which are you more likely to neglect? How could you balance both?
  • Do you think we should, or could, bring the theme of ‘justice’ back into our Christmas celebrations more? If so, how would you start?

Something you could do today

  • How could you spread the word about the real St Nicholas today? You could forward on today’s email reflection to friends. Or perhaps share a post on social media talking about the original man behind the myth of St Nicholas, and asking others why ‘justice’ has become a bit lost at Christmas.

Copyright 2018 Embrace the Middle East. All rights reserved. Embrace the Middle East is a registered charity no. 1076329.

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Anthony of Siya – Thursday 7th December 2017

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Anthony’s is another life deeply coloured by grief. He was born in 1477 in a Russian village near Archangel. From an early age he devoted himself to reading sacred books and making icons. When his parents died, he worked for a wealthy lord in Novgorod, eventually marrying the lord’s daughter. Less than a year later, however, he was widowed. The hagiography then writes: “Despairing of earthly consolations, he gave his wealth to the poor and, owning only the clothes that he wore, went to become a monk at the Monastery of St Pachomius.”

Anthony is clearly deep in grief and maybe in depression. He found solace in a life of prayer, vigil and ascesis. He prayed for most of the night, took on the heaviest work by day, and (in a time when this would be praised as a virtue, not questioned as an eating disorder) ate only every second day. After a short time he was ordained to the priesthood.

Some years later he and two companions, seeking a still more secluded life for prayer, travelled to the frozen shores of the White Sea and established a small monastic brotherhood where the River Siya enters Lake Mikhailov. They lived in utter poverty, staying alive by gathering mushrooms and wild berries. This phenomenal lack of worldliness impressed and intrigued others that were seeking deeper relationships with God. In time, therefore, other brethren were attracted to the site, and a monastery was founded with the help of the Grand Prince of Moscow.

Anthony’s response was to withdraw into the forests, living alone for many years. God however, who exists in the community of the Trinity, is always calling us back into community to share our lives with our neighbours as well as in communion with the divine. Anthony’s spiritual children called him back to serve as the monastery’s abbot.

Let us give thanks to God for taking even our most distressing experiences and using them to shine light into the world.

Interceding

On this day, lift before God:

  • those who are widowed.
  • all who cannot imagine being happy.
  • all who find visual arts helpful in exploring faith, whether as onlookers or creators.

 

St Nicholas of Myra – Wednesday 6th December 2017.

stnicholas-tobiasshaller-basedonnathanaeldewardNicholas was born in Lycia (in Asia Minor) around the end of the third century, to pious Christian parents. From early youth he was inclined to solitude and silence; in fact, not a single written or spoken word of the Saint has come down to us. Whilst he may simply have been quiet, an introvert by nature, I can’t help but wonder whether Nicholas had autistic traits, especially given the combination of his preference for silence and solitude alongside his sudden violent outburst at the Council of Nicea, where he struck Arius on the face. This act should have led to Nicholas being deposed as a bishop, but the other 316 bishops were convinced during prayer that Nicholas had acted out of love for truth and not through malice or anger and so allowed him to remain a bishop.

Nicholas had wanted to be a hermit in the Holy Land; but  was ordained priest by his uncle, the then Archbishop and told to return home to serve the Church publicly and be the salvation of many souls. His desire for a life of simplicity led Nicholas, when his parents died, to give away all of his inheritance to the needy, taking particular care that this charity be done in secret. Perhaps the most famous story of his open-handedness concerns a debt-ridden man who had no money to provide dowries for his daughters, or even to support them, and in despair had resolved to send them into prostitution. On three successive nights the Saint threw a bag of gold into the window of the man’s house, saving him and his daughters from sin and hopelessness. The man searched relentlessly to find and thank his benefactor; when at last he discovered that it was Nicholas, the Saint made him promise not to reveal the good deed until after he had died. (This story may be the thin thread that connects the Saint with the modern-day Santa Claus).

Let us give thanks that a man who spoke and wrote so little can still be God’s instrument to inspire us in faith and generosity today.

Interceding

On this day, lift before God:

  • those, who do not speak, or do not speak often.
  • all who poor, hungry or in danger.
  • all charged with steering the course of the church, according to God’s will.

 

Barabara – Monday 4th December 2017

trinity

Reflecting

This piece of our potter’s work is Saint Barbara, whose life in one way epitomises all that Peter is saying about how our actions grow from our convictions, with our convictions growing from faith and love. On the other hand she has an impulsiveness that shows a complete lack of fear or lack of understanding of the consequences of her actions.

Barbara lived during the third century. At some point in early adulthood she secretly began to believe in the Holy Trinity. Nobody knows why she began to believe. She hadn’t been visited by preachers, although she might have heard tales. She is reported to have begun by believing in the mystery of the Trinity, an amazingly complex notion to be revealed into her heart or apprehended during prayer.

When her father, Dioscorus, was required to go away in the middle of a bath-house building project, Barbara directed the workmen to build a third window in addition to the two her father had commanded. This action is both bold and oblique. Changing her father’s orders was likely to bring trouble, but the addition of a third window would not have an obvious meaning to the uninitiated. Something in Barbara clearly needed to express what she was coming to understand, to make solid something unseen and mysterious.

When Dioscorus returned, he asked why the third window had been added. Barbara could simply have argued her desire for more light or the artistic merits of an arrangement of three windows, instead Barbara began to tell him all the wonders of the mystery of the Trinity. Perhaps she had consciously, or unconsciously put the third window there to provoke the question, to enable her to speak about a topic she didn’t know how to bring up.

Sadly Barbara did not meet with a loving acceptance, nor a sense of wonder at where his daughter would get such strange ideas. Her father tortured her inhumanly, but she refused to renounce her faith.  Finally he  beheaded her with his own hands, in the year 290.

Interceding

On this day, lift before God:

  • those, who believe secretly.
  • all who find meaning and pleasure in the placement of windows and patterns of light.
  • all who can be driven to anger and/or violence in defence of their beliefs.