Thursday, January 24, 2008

More of Christmas Past and Mary

January 24, 2008
Greetings as we are quickly nearing the end of the Epiphany season. Barely time for one more reflection about Christmas and my visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Preparing for Christmas in Muslim society like Egypt does not allow for any of the public display of decorations or the broadcasting of Christmas "songs" that we find in the West. A few store windows in the Coptic Christian section of Cairo showed some gifts for the Yule season and I saw one flower shops that sold trees. But Christmas here is celebrated solely in the churches and in Christian homes, not in the whole society. Maybe, not such a bad idea to help strip away all the "other stuff" and focus on the true meaning where and when Christians gather.

Bethlehem as you might expect was different. The icon at the top is from the Church of the Nativity, a sacred site for many Christian traditions. I also worshipped with the Lutherans at the Christmas Church nearby where we were treated to a concert of fine Christmas music from two choirs visiting from the Chicago area.
(the picture just above) A very special celebration with a rich array of the music for the birth of the Christ child.

We have just finished the course entitled: Women in the Muslim (the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet) and in the Christian Scriptures. It was taught by a visiting professor from Norway. The virgin Mary is an honored woman in each. Some passages in the Qur'an and Luke are quite similar, particularly in the annunication story. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary with the announcement which she finds hard to believe. Then, in the Qur'an, Mary is instructed to prostrate herself before the majesty of God, a sign that as a woman, she has the same ability from creation to respond to the Almighty as does a man. And also, this request, or it seemed to me to be more like a demand by the angel, sets a model for all women of obedience. What Luke goes on to tell in the continuing dialogue between God's messenger and God's handmaiden is a wonderfully warm encounter, which culminates in the song of praise and adoration we call the "Magnificat". I am glad we have Luke as one of our four Gospel accounts.

I have just been reading the term paper by a first year Sudanese student named Musa (Moises) Kody. He too compares the passages in these scriptures concerning Mary, and adds this reflection at the end,

"As we know, it had been the practice of each group (Christians and Muslims) blindly to defend "their" book as the only true one and to portray the other to be false and corrupted. This paper does not follow that tendency, but seeks to be an open and faithful research for those with devoted hearts who believe not only in the Scriptures, but in the God of the Scriptures, who is the one true God who can convert people who seek only the truth and follow it."

Food for thought.

I would add only this, as we are hearing daily of the effects of the Israeli blockage of the Palestinian territory of Gaza, the suffering this is bringing to the people living there - that Mary's song still applies today - that God is a God "who fills the hungry with good things. Pray for and work for a just and lasting peace for this area of God's world and for all of God's people. Roger

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Walls of Jerusalem

"We are standing within thy gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together." My visit to the Holy Land over the new year was fascinating. There is much to see, much to learn. And one can walk around her walls in little over an hour.

The picture above is of two of the most important places, the "Dome of the Rock" for Muslims because it recalls the place where the prophet Mohammad was carried to and from heaven in a vision, and for Jews because the wall beneath this plateau is the one remaining part of the original temple complex build by Solomon and restored by Herod. The blue and white flag of the state of Israel announces to all that Israel controls the city now and has for forty years, but allows access by Muslims and Christians to their holy places.

I also visit Bethlehem for a concert by two choirs from Illinois who sang carrols at the Lutheran "Christmas" Church there. The Rev. Julie Rowe was my guide and as we road the bus from the Israeli controlled territory to the west bank area controlled by the Palestinians we were confrounted with a tall concrete wall. On it someone has written: "Ich bin ein Berliner", recalling another wall that divided peoples. Julie had many stories about the building of a wall between territory that Israel seeks to incorporate, land which Palestinian Arabs and Christians own and wish to continue farming. The Israeli argument is that this is for their security. However, by preventing the movement of Arab Palestinians to their means of livelihood and moving settlers on to this land, the effect is to "appropriate" this land. You can learn more about this by searching out Julie's web pages and information about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

I dined with Pastor Mark Holman and his family following the worship service at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, which is located close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which I will discuss in my next blog. The second picture was taken from the grounds of the Augusta Victoria Hospital and looks out toward the Dead Sea. He had taken me there and pointed out that the walls being constructed by the Israelis often separate the places where arabs live from where they work. I have tried to show this by two black arrows. I show this so that you will be aware of some of the dynamics going on. Our Lutheran Church is there to help us to do just that (to help us understand). More later. Happy Epiphany!