Author, Anglican and Chaplain of St George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, Rev.Canon Andrew White, posted this picture to his timeline on Facebook, writing: ”The Christians in Northern Iraq have set up a refugee tent for Jesus in refugee camp for this year.”
If we’re looking for inspiration in broken times; a reminder that faith seeks understanding and inspires hope; that the living God is indeed alive. We as Westerners might first begin here.
Jean Elshtain’s words, written in 2008, shine forth a vivid description about what it means to be the people of the Prince of Peace:
‘The progress of Christian pilgrims has been measured in their perseverance against sin and temptation and their commitment to living out their lives within the framework of a community that cares for its neighbors and lives in hope of eternal life.
The Christian community is not territorial, that is, it is not tied to a specific place and space. From the beginning, Christians have been a pilgrim people, living within historic time and moving across earthly space. As pilgrims, they are not defined by their territorial location or identity. God is not confined to a geographic place.’ [i]
Although Elshtain isn’t, she could be taking her example from a reflection on the journey of Mary, Joseph and Jesus; to Bethlehem and then from Bethlehem to Egypt and back again. Included in this historical narrative of movement and community is the arrival of Shepherds and the later arrival of Magi from the East.
Within the recollection that the diorama in the photo reveals, rests a solemn, but still joyful act of defiance and devotion. An acknowledgement that ‘God is not confined to a geographic place’.
This is, as Barth might perhaps term it: a statement of gratitude, recollection and anticipation not just for the emancipation already received in Christ, but for the hope of emancipation which is to come.
When we read Barth’s apophatic warning, the connection isn’t as clear on the surface. The connection does, however, exist in the point that this is a call to recall hope as event:
‘Revelation is not the manifestation of an idea…In Jesus, the living God has spoken to both men and women in accents we cannot fail to hear’ [ii]
Barth’s warning is only made sharper in it’s relevance to Westerners when viewed in the light of Dietrich Bonheoffer’s indictment on the spirit of his time:
‘We have learnt the art of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical.
Are we of any use?
What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?’
(Letters and Papers from Prison, Expanded ed.)
As hearts realign towards God’s revelation this Christmas. We as the people of the Prince of Peace recall hope as an event that was and will be;at once and for all time glad tidings, good news; reconciliation, relationship; grace and just judgement. It is here that we are also challenged once again to stand against the shadow and threat of fascist totalitarianism, and proclaim along with the Confessing Church:
“Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.” [iii]
[i] Elshtain, J. 2008 Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books. Kindle Ed. p. 30.
[ii] Barth, K. 1938 CD. I/II The Miracle of Christmas, Hendrickson Publishers, p.179 & 183
[iii] Barth, K. 1940 CD.II/I The Knowability of God, Hendrickson Publishers p.172 // Theological Confession of Barmen, First Article, May 31, 1934
Image credit: Stivan Shany