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

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