Dear friends,Artwork by Palestinian Christian artist Zaki Baboun
I’d like to tell you about the first time I ever really understood the Nativity.
It was during my time as a young adult missionary with Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. I was in a Muslim village called Yanoun, in the northern West Bank of the occupied Palestinian territories. I was there with members of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program, which is an effort of the World Council of Churches to provide a nonviolent ministry of presence to communities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. I had the chance to visit with a few of the shepherds who make their living in and around the village. Two of the shepherds showed us where their sheep shelter during the night. It was a low, dark, cave. Noisy, crowded with animals, and smelling like–well–sheep dung. The mangers where the animals eat were rusty and showing their age, with sheep pushing at each other to find space to eat. Not a bad place for sheep, but also not the sort of place you’d want to give birth. I remember thinking: “Well, if God can be born here, I guess God can be born anywhere.”
It’s been seven years since then, and that’s still about the most true thing I can think to say about Christmas. If Christ can be born where Luke’s gospel claims – if Jesus can be born to a displaced family, frightened and far away from home, forced to leave the safety of their community by the machinations of people and empires far more powerful than them – if Jesus can be born in a manger, a feeding trough – if Jesus can be born anonymously in the midst of questionable circumstances – if our faith makes this claim that Christ could be born there – then surely Christ could be born anywhere.
This semester has certainly had its share of challenges, including tragic and violent events that could easily make us wonder where God is. We are not alone in such wondering — our scriptures are full of prophets, psalmists, apostles, and even a Messiah asking the same question: “Where are you, God? Why do you allow such violence, such intimidation, such displacement, such hopelessness to happen?”
And yet if God could be born there…
The scandalous claim of Christmas is that exactly in these places of seeming hopelessness our hope is born. In the middle of it all, in the mess and hurt of human existence, God is born. And on Christmas, we remember that God continues to be born — in us, through us, and, sometimes, in spite of us. What marvelous good news this is, indeed.
It has been a challenging semester, and yet I am grateful for all of the many ways that I have witnessed God’s presence here on campus at American University and beyond: in our community’s hospitality to big questions, in new friendships and new partnerships, in the development of student leaders, and — of course — in shared meals and fellowship. I pray that your continue to experience love and joy this Christmas, and that in the New Year you find opportunities to share the love of God, to serve others, and to welcome all.
Please keep our ministry in your prayers. And, if you or someone you know is looking for an opportunity for generosity during this season of giving, please consider donating to our Next Generation Campaign, so that our ministry at AU can not only continue but grow and deepen.
Thank you for all that you do. Remember you are loved. Remember there is hope. Anywhere.
Grace and Peace,