By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Christmas is a time to celebrate the coming of a light that can dispel the darkness of the world, and each of us can help make that happen. Jesus came into the world as the light of God’s reconciling love more than 2,000 years ago, and we can keep God’s light shining in the world if we open our hearts and minds to the power of God’s love and share it with others.
Too often the church has blurred the universal light of God’s love with exclusivist doctrines and creeds that Jesus never taught. Jesus was a Jew who never promoted any religion or suggested that he was divine. He taught that we love God by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. That’s how we can experience the transforming power of God’s love.
Christians put too much emphasis on worshiping Jesus as the alter ego of God rather than following Jesus as the word of God. In so doing the church has subordinated the universal moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist beliefs in Jesus as a divine being. Christmas should be a time to welcome Jesus as the light of God’s word into a world of darkness and depravity.
You don’t have to be a Christian to experience the transforming power of God’s love. Jesus said that all who do God’s will are his spiritual brothers and sisters (Mark 3:35). We need to allow the light of God’s love to dispel the darkness of exclusivist religious beliefs that blind us to our spiritual kinship so that we can be reconciled in a universal family of God.
I pray that the light of God’s love will dispel the darkness that divides us and reconcile us as children of God this Christmas. Blessings and peace to all from a Maverick Methodist.
Neither the Gospel of Mark nor the Gospel of John has a Christmas story. Instead, John’s Gospel begins by presenting Jesus as the mystical Logos, or word of God, and as a light that shines in the darkness (John 1:5). John has Jesus say, I am the light of the world (John 8:12), but that mystical language contrasts with the teachings of the rabbi Jesus reported in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus tells his followers: You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men (Matthew 5:14-16). For commentary based on John’s Gospel, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/12/advent-coming-of-light-that-shines-in.html.
In an Advent lament in the Pandemic, Michael Luo has noted how early Christians showed compassion for those suffering from plagues, while modern Christians often seem indifferent to the suffering of non-Christians. Luo observed, “For years, the church in America has been in retreat, in cultural influence and in numbers. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, in 2019, sixty-five percent of Americans identified as Christians, down twelve per cent from the previous decade; meanwhile, the numbers of the religiously unaffiliated have grown to twenty-six per cent. The co-opting of white evangelicalism by Republican politics helps to explain the confrontational attitude of conservative Christians, but so does the fear of many believers that they are losing their place in a secularizing America. A pluralistic society needs to ensure that people of faith, as well as those without any faith, have a role in the public square. But the defiance of the church during the pandemic has come with a cost. The pandemic in 2020 has held a mirror to Christianity, just as the epidemics of antiquity did, but today’s reflection carries the potential to repulse rather than attract. Once the vaccine is widely distributed next year, the church, along with the rest of society, will begin to move on. Yet the world will not be as it was. Churches will have to reckon not only with whether their congregants will return in person, but with how much their collective witness––the term Christians use to describe their ability to point to Jesus in their lives––may have been diminished.
Toward the end of his life, Jesus was challenged by a Pharisee, in Jerusalem, to name the greatest commandment. He said that it was to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and that the second greatest commandment was to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The early followers of Jesus realized that these admonitions were intertwined, that one led to the other. In a new book, “God and the Pandemic,” N. T. Wright, a New Testament scholar and retired Anglican bishop, urges the church, as it considers its role in the aftermath of the coronavirus, to champion the priorities of Psalm 72, which is written as a prayer for King Solomon: “May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor.” Wright admits that such a vision for society might be wishful thinking, but he writes that this is “what the Church at its best has always believed and taught, and what the Church on the front lines has always practiced.” It is also what an ailing nation needs.” See