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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2 ways to forgiveness.

*** Tips on Tuesday *** Tips on Tuesday ***

(Nadia Bolz-Weber)

  1. Don’t wait for an apology.
    Forgiveness is not something we earn from God, nor is it something that others earn from us. God chose not to be bound by like for like rules of justice, but to forgive abundantly. We can break the cycles of resentment pain and violence by following God’s example: absorbing the pain, forgiving the one(s) who caused it.
  2. Accept forgiveness when it is offered.
    If someone forgives you, they are now free of the chains connecting them to the painful time or act. When they broke the chains, they freed you too. Many of us hang onto our chains, remembering the hurt we have caused, refusing to be free. If it’s because we never asked forgiveness of the person who forgave us, work that out with God, don’t try to draw the other person back in.
  3. Repeat as necessary.

Sabbas the Sanctified – Tuesday 5th December 2017

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Reflecting

Sabbas’s father was a soldier, who took his wife with him on manoeuvres, leaving their son in his Uncles care, until the age of eight, when he entered a monastic school. When he was seventeen years old, his parents asked Sabbas to return home and marry, but Sabbas insisted on receiving monastic tonsure. It is hard to know, at this point in Sabbas’s story, whether his decision is driven more by a sense of calling to the monastic life or the desire to remain in what had become his home, living the only life he had witnessed. He would barely have known his parents or what married life looked like. Let’s pause to thank God that, whatever the thought processes guiding this teenager, the resulting actions gave glory to God.

Sabbas spent ten years at this monastery before travelling to Jerusalem, to a monastery that practiced a strict rule he lived here until the age of thirty, when Elder Theoctistus died. With this death Sabbas discovered the desire to live a more secluded life. Living as a hermit in a cave was part of the monastic experience of the time, but what prompted Sabbas’s decision? Did he feel the call to a deeper, more silent life of prayer; did he need fewer distractions or was he trying to distance himself from grief by making himself less attached to others? Whatever his personal motivations, God blessed his actions.

St. Sabbas was blessed to seclude himself in a cave. On Saturdays, however, he left his hermitage and came to the monastery, where he participated in divine services and ate with the brethren. After a certain time, however,  St. Sabbas received permission not to leave his cave at all, he remained there for five years, until his spiritual director died. St. Sabbas then withdrew from the Lavra (rich monastery) and moved to a cave near the Jordan. In 478, he moved again to a cave on the cliffs of the Kedron Gorge southeast of Jerusalem. Each time he seems to be moving to more remote, more secluded spots, to be totally alone with God or away from all people. So, God being God, made people curious about this holy, prayerful man.

Disciples began to gather around St. Sabbas, seeking the monastic life. As the number of monks increased, a lavra came into being around his hermitage. When a pillar of fire appeared before St. Sabbas as he was walking, he found a spacious cave in the form of a church. Eventually St. Sabbas founded several other monasteries and he composed the first monastic Rule of church services, the  “Jerusalem Typikon”, that became accepted by all the Palestinian monasteries.

How wonderful that God can take the journey of a life that withdraws from other people into greater and greater solitude and silence and use it to bring together communities of love, prayer and faith.

Interceding

On this day, lift before God:

  • those, who live ordered, disciplined lives.
  • all who spend long periods of time alone.
  • Christians in Palestine today.