Hope for Justice Found in the Manger
GENEVA, 7 December 2011 (LWI) – In his 2011 Christmas message, The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan urges Christians to celebrate the hope of justice for those living through troubled times that is heralded by Jesus’ birth.
Younan reflects on Luke 2: 25-38, the account of Joseph and Mary bringing the infant Jesus to the temple for the first time and meeting Anna and Simeon, who had hoped faithfully for the Messiah.
Through patient waiting, God’s justice will prevail, no matter how desperate the situation is for vulnerable people throughout the world, states Younan, who is bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.
“God’s justice, incarnated in the manger and revealed on the cross, is stronger than any human promises. This is the meaning of Christ himself having been a refugee in Egypt. And Christ finds his manger today in every refugee, in all displaced, rejected, oppressed and migrant people,” says Younan.
The LWF Christmas card illustrates this vulnerable displacement through a contemporary Canadian lens, portraying the holy family as southern Ontario Old Order Mennonites fleeing through a snowstorm in a horse-drawn buggy into the unknown.
Christ finding his manger today in those in precarious situations also is visible in the LWF Christmas message’s photograph of refugees in the Dadaab camp in Kenya. Younan, who has been a refugee himself, emphasizes that the church must continue to provide safe haven for those seeking refuge and to advocate for human rights.
“I greet you from Jerusalem and Bethlehem and I say: do not be afraid! Justice is coming! The fulfillment in Christ at that time has become our source of hope for all time. And it will continue to be our hope even today in a time of political upheavals,” he affirms. (314 words)
The full text of the LWF 2011 Christmas message follows:
2011 Christmas Message from the LWF President
Anna and Simeon play an important role in Luke’s Christmas account, when Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the temple for the first time. Luke describes Anna as a prophet. She had married young, was widowed after only seven years and had reached the age of 84. She never left the temple, but served God with fasting and prayer day and night. Luke describes Simeon as filled with the Spirit. He had, like Anna, reached old age. He was led to the temple when Jesus was brought there. He takes the child in his arms, praises God and blesses the child (verses 29-32).
Anna and Simeon had lived through almost the entire first century before Christ, with all its shattering events. They had prayed and hoped patiently for God’s salvation. Like refugees do in refugee camps, they had waited for the fulfillment of their aspirations. Simeon had looked forward to the consolation of Israel (verse 25). Anna had looked for the redemption of Jerusalem (verse 38). They are an example of patient waiting in hope.
Anna and Simeon remained in tension-filled Jerusalem for their lifetime. As for all who trust in God, faith and hope were for them inseparable. Their faith believed in God, and their hope awaited the moment when what is believed would be confirmed. For refugees, their longing for the fulfillment of their hopes is an urgent one. A renowned Palestinian thinker, Edward Said, has said, “Departure is always anxious, return is always uncertain.” Refugees are often near to despair, or in the darkness of despair already. “How can I hope?” they ask.
It is said that “the darkest hour is right before dawn.” But how can we know that we are in the darkest hour? Sometimes we think it is as dark as it will become, and yet it continues to get even darker, and we cannot know when it will turn into dawn. That is when our lives are upheld only by faith and hope. And that is the time when Jesus is incarnated in the midst of us and makes the Bethlehem manger present among us.
Writing to you at this time, I recall my own experience as a refugee. I have experienced what every refugee in every part of the world experiences: a sense of being neglected by the powers of the world, and an intense longing for home and for freedom. I was blessed, however, by the church, which provided assistance for us and I was inspired to hope—against hope—that God’s justice would break in. This is the reason why the church shall help to provide safe havens for refugees and advocate for their human rights everywhere.
Simeon and Anna must have thought that the salvation they longed for could never happen in their lifetime. But through patient waiting with faith and hope, inspired by the Holy Spirit, their eyes finally did see the salvation prepared for them and the world. God’s justice, incarnated in the manger and revealed on the cross, is stronger than any empty human promises. This is the meaning of Christ himself having been a refugee in Egypt. And Christ finds his manger today in every refugee, in all displaced, rejected, oppressed and migrant people. Where the poor are, there is the child Jesus. In this spirit, let us celebrate together the hope of justice that comes to us from the Shepherds’ Field, where the angels are telling us: A savior is born.
I greet you from Jerusalem and Bethlehem and I say: Do not be afraid! Justice is coming! The fulfillment in Christ at that time has become our source of hope for all times. And it will continue to be our hope even today in a time of political upheavals. A blessed Christmas to all of you!
Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan
President, The Lutheran World Federation
Bishop, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land