Thursday, 24 December 2009

'Stars and trees and waters stand still for an instant' :A Homily for Christmas night

'The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’, proclaims Isaiah in our reading tonight. The messianic promise is that oppression will be lifted and peace will reign, but what kind of peace and what kind of Messiah?

There is a strong strand in religious tradition that equates darkness with evil and light with good. It’s an influential strand that some believe dates back to Persian Zoroastrianism, with its coeternal spirits of good and evil. This view was also influential in some of the heretical movements in the early church. But much of Abrahamic faith does not buy into such easy separations, such clear dualisms, for the Semitic-rooted paths proclaim One God who is Lord of all, One God who is both God of the night and of the day, of the dark and of the light. As the Psalmist proclaims: ‘the darkness and the light are both alike to you.’

And we gather here in the dark of night to worship that God; to gather around this crib and marvel at the truth of the Nativity — the truth that in the warm nurturing darkness of a woman’s womb God chose to be; that in the dark of night God became human, revealing the truth that there need be no separation between the human and the divine. As Athanasius said: ‘God became human that we might become divine.’

The images of darkness and light that do run through our scripture — the images of Christ as the light that darkness cannot extinguish— are not there to set up the dualism between light and dark but to show that the phantoms of the night, the fear of the dark, are the creations of our imagination and a demonstration of the weakness, yes the weakness of evil. For God comes in the night to claim the night from the phantoms and fantasies of our mind that give power to weak and floundering evil. God comes in the night to show us that the dark is indeed God’s place too and perhaps the night is a holy and sacred time, a time of revelation, wonder and awe. The beauty of a real night sky — breath-taking beauty such as the night skies of the Middle Eastern desert — it’s only in such real darkness away from the false modern city lights that the true beauty of the stars’ natural light can be seen. Our city lights drown out the wonder of natural darkness and its intimate relationship with true light: the desert sky is darkness and light in a partnership of beauty revealing the wonder of God’s universe.

And so monks and nuns have, down the centuries, risen in the dead of night to pray; and in the early church not only monks and nuns but all Christians were encouraged to rise in the middle of the night to pray. The Early Church Father Hippolytus said:

Around midnight, rise and wash your hands with water and pray. If you are married, pray together… For those elders who handed down the tradition to us taught us that in this hour every creature hushes for a brief moment to praise the Lord. Stars and trees and waters stand still for an instant. All the host of angels serving him, together with the souls of the righteous, praise God.

And our brothers and sisters in Islam believe this of the night too, for one of the last ten days of Ramadan is the Night of Power when Muslims believe the first words of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad. And on that night heaven is open wide and angels, one Muslim friend told me, descend in their thousands to the earth to hear the prayers of believers. And so many devout Muslims rise to pray at night during those last days of Ramadan in the hope of the angels hearing and taking their prayers to paradise.

And it was angels who came to those despised people of the night, the shepherds, to proclaim the birth of Jesus:

Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

… said the lone angel, to be followed by a host:

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!

But what kind of Messiah? What kind of peace?

In a world in which dualisms of easy categorisations of good and bad, where opposites of the theories of the 'clash of civilisations' and easy dismissals and retreats from the Other abound - where in Bethlehem itself a wall of oppression, division and fear rises up - we are called to embrace this Messiah, this incarnate God who comes not to bring peace through conquest - the overcoming of the opposite — but through relationship. This God calls us not to set up easy opposites but to see our connection with the other, as light and dark work together to produce the beauty of the night sky. This new truly revolutionary Messiah, this Jesus, the God who is not a god in the way we think we know, calls us to live this Good News, to live this peace, the peace of Christmas, the peace of the night. To open our hearts to the Other, the different, and in so doing to be transformed and to transform, to become stars in the night sky, and as a human race to be what God made us to be: participants in his beauty, love and truth.

A Homily Preached at Midnight Mass St Paul's Church Balsall Heath Birmingham Christmas 2009

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas - A Good Time for Abrahamic Dialogue?

Some Muslims and Jews certainly seem to think so!

I want to draw people's attention to a couple of examples of Muslims and Jews seeing Christmas as an opportunity to open up dialogue with Christians on Jesus and on our joint commitment to social justice and transformation.

An interesting post on the Christian-Muslim Forum website highlights a feature in this months Muslim Lifestyle Magazine Emel on The Muslim Jesus. The Magazine asks:

'In a world of divisions, can the man both Muslims and Christians call the Messiah, have the potential to be a bridge?'

Folks at the Forum have risen to the challenge and sought to address Emel's question with responses from Muslims and Christians. There is also a link to an interetsing article from the New Statesman by political Editor Mehdi Hasan on Jesus: The Muslim Prophet

Meanwhile over at the vibrant North American Jewish Progressive Magazine Tikkun there is an excellent reource on Advent & Christmas alongside material for Chanukah which ran from 11th -19th December. Tikkun calls itself - 'A Jewish Magazine and an interfaith movement' - in printing material on Christmas the editors of the magazine explain -what may appear an unusual move for a Jewish publication - in the following way

Tikkun was started as and remains the voice of liberal and progressive Jews. But it has also evolved to become the voice of spiritual progressives of all sorts....To make that inclusion real, we are creating an online collection at of readings and instructions on how people in each of the various spiritual and religious traditions could make their own holidays more spiritually aliveand more reflective of their highest values. We welcome your contribution to this effort—send your submissions to
The November/December issue of Tikkun also reflects this widening of our interests by presenting how committed Christians could make Christmas a deeper spiritual experience. Needless to say,we are not advocating that people become Christian, nor do we endorse the reading of the Bible that claims that Jesus is “the fulfillment”of Jewish messianic hopes, anymore than we have ever proselytized in the past forJudaism. If we proselytize for anything it is this:building a world based on love,caring, generosity,ethical and ecological sensitivity, awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of All Being. We urge you all to infuse that consciousness in whatever spiritual, religious, or humanist practices you adopt in your life. Let’s build that love-based world now, before the global capitalist ethos of materialism, selfishness, “me-first-ism,” scarcity, and“Right Hand of God”consciousness—as well as the endless quest to accumulate and produce more— combine to destroy life on our planet.

There follows some good material written by New Monastic Christian Jonathan Wilson Hart Grove including an excellent introduction entitled A Note to Jewish Readers on How we Might wait for Messiah Together. Check it out!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Focus on the Holy Land this Christmas - Resources for Worship & Reflection, ideas for action and a historic statement from Palestinian Christians

At this time of Christmas we remember Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. We remember that he was born under occupation in a land that was full of conflict – a brutal occupation force inflicting violence and terror on the people of the land, indigenous ‘terrorists’ enacting revenge with futile attacks against a much greater force - and it was into this world that Jesus came with his challenge to all. And Jesus presents us with a challenge today to not allow ourselves to forget the struggles of the people of Palestine/Israel and the conflict raging in the very places we sing about in our carols this Christmas. The ‘Holy Land’ a place of pilgrimage and deep significance for Muslims, Christians and Jews alike needs our prayers and our action. I encourage you to pray and share this prayer this Christmas from the Christian peace group Pax Christi and to consider using material from the Amos trust particularly in your services on 27th December the anniversary of the beginning of the Israeli bombing of Gaza last year.

O God, you are the source of life and peace.
Praised be your name forever.
We know it is you who turn our minds to thoughts of peace.
Hear our prayer in this time of war.
Your power changes hearts.
Muslims, Christians, and Jews remember,
and profoundly affirm, that they are followers of the one God,
children of Abraham, brothers and sisters;
enemies begin to speak to one another;
those who were estranged join hands in friendship;
nations seek the way of peace together.
Strengthen our resolve to give witness to these truths by the way we live.
Give to us: understanding that puts an end to strife;
mercy that quenches hatred; and forgiveness that overcomes vengeance.
Empower all people to live in your law of love.

Further Resources for Christmas on Palestine/Israel
Reflections and prayers from the Amos Trust at particularly focussing on the anniversary of the beginning of the aerial assault on Gaza which falls on Sunday 27th December. Please consider using some of the material in your local services that day.

Read and pray and reflect upon the stories in:

It’s Time for Peace - A Service of Reflections Featuring the voices of young Palestinians and Israelis at
And after Christmas think about putting your prayers into action …….

Find out about A Just Peace for Palestine this will be a multi agency campaign for those keen to be involved in supporting a just resolution to the Israel – Palestine crisis.
We will be asking churches, mosques, synagogues, schools, unions, to sign up to the ‘Just Peace for Palestine’ campaign. We will ask those who join to take certain actions to keep the issue at the forefront of the agenda, continuing to raise awareness and thus encouraging politicians to help bring about a just and peaceful resolution.

Just Peace for Palestine seeks an end to the ongoing conflict by calling and campaigning for:

  • The right of the Palestinian people to self determination
  • An end to Israel’s military occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories
  • The removal of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
  • The dismantling of the Separation Wall
  • An end to the siege of the Gaza Strip
  • We are committed to a just peace for Palestine that affirms the dignity of the Palestinian people, in accordance with their civil, political and human rights under international law.
  • The current treatment of Palestinians denies their basic rights and therefore does not offer any hope of a lasting peace.
  • We affirm that a just peace for Palestinians will also mean peace and security for Israelis.
  • We reject all forms of racism that treats any group as ‘lesser’ or inferior.
  • Though religion can be a source of division and conflict, Jews, Christians and Muslims – as well as those of other faiths or none – can share a common commitment to ‘Doing unto others as you would have them do to you’. Whether from a faith group or not, we affirm this as a good foundation for going forward.
  • We recognise the history of the suffering of the Jewish community through the centuries and particularly the horror of the Holocaust. We affirm our rejection of anti-Semitism as we commit ourselves to justice for the Palestinians.

Please get in touch: To find out how the group you are a part of can join this exciting new campaign please contact: or visit or locally a group has already been set up in West Midlands the next meeting is on 27th January 2010 at Central Methodist Mission at 6.45pm. Contact me on for further details

Just Peace for Palestine, Amos Trust, 83 London Wall, London, EC2M 5ND, 020 7588 2638
Full website will be launched in early 2010
A just peace for Palestine means peace and security for Israelis

Call by Palestinian Christians for a just peace inspired by anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa


11 December 2009 is the launch of the Palestinian Kairos document, “A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering”.
15 senior inter-denominational Palestinian Christian leaders co-author this historic call, 24 years after South African theologians published their Kairos Document.
Christian initiative calls the Israeli occupation a “sin”, urges Western Church to “stand alongside” the “oppressed”, including use of boycott and disinvestment.

As Christmas approaches, the Western Church looks towards Bethlehem and remembers not just the events of 2,000 years ago, but also today’s ‘little town’ and the Palestinian Christians living under Israeli occupation.

A Moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering

On 11 December 2009, the Palestinian Church will issue a historic call, with the launch of the Palestinian Christian Initiative document: “A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering”.

Co-authored by over a dozen Palestinian church leaders and theologians from various denominations, and the result of an 18 month-drafting process, this Palestinian ‘Kairos Document’ is a “cry of hope in the absence of all hope”, addressed to Palestinians, Israelis, and “Christian brothers and sisters in the Churches around the world”.

The ceremony marking the official publication of the Palestine Kairos Document will be introduced by His Beatitude Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah, one of the document’s co-authors. Other contributors to the initiative include Lutherans Bishop Dr. Munib Younan and Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna, the Anglican Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, and the Baptist Rev. Dr. Yohana Katanacho.

The document declares “that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God”, distorting “the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation”.

As well as addressing Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims, and Israeli Jews, a key part of the Palestinian Kairos call is to the Church in the West. The document criticises those “who use the Bible to threaten our existence as Christian and Muslim Palestinians”, trying to “attach a biblical and theological legitimacy to the infringement of our rights”.

At the same time as calling for “repentance”, the declaration affirms and celebrates the “prophetic” mission of the Church; “to speak the Word of God courageously, honestly and lovingly in the local context and in the midst of daily events”, and to “stand alongside” the “oppressed”.

The Palestinian Kairos Document asks a question to Christians internationally: “Are you able to help us get our freedom back, for this is the only way you can help the two peoples attain justice, peace, security and love?” They urge Christians to “take a position of truth with regard to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land”, including the use of “boycott and disinvestment as tools of non violence for justice, peace and security for all”.

The Palestinian Christian leaders describe a message of “love and living together” to the Muslims and Jews of the Holy Land, condemning “all forms of racism”. The Palestine Kairos call is for a “common vision, built on equality and sharing, not on superiority, negation of the other or aggression, using the pretext of fear and security”. It is thus that “justice and security will be attained for all”.

Rifat Kassis, coordinator of the initiative and President of Defence for Children International (DCI)’s International Executive Council, says he hopes that this document will be “a turning point in the relations between the churches worldwide and the Palestinian people”. Kassis affirmed that “apathy and silence will not help bring a resolution and a just peace”.

In the UK, the Palestinian Kairos Document is endorsed by the Amos Trust and its new initiative ‘A Just Peace for Palestine’. Rev. Canon Garth Hewitt hailed the Palestinian Christian document as “a call for the world and particularly the worldwide Christian community to wake up to what is happening in Palestine”. Hewitt said that “this document demands a response especially from Christian leaders” and “brings the challenge ‘now is the time to speak up’”.

Read the full document A Moment of Truth at