THIS has been a very difficult year in many respects. Jobs are scarce; the economy is not really picking up and what is worse, violence continues to rear its ugly head now and again. We don’t even know whether the coming Christmas will be violent or peaceful.
What message does the Christian church have for such a world?
The one thing it needs to do is to wake up to reality and help the world to wake up to it too. How? By looking at the first Christmas.
In many ways, the events surrounding the first Christmas bore an uncanny resemblance to what we are experiencing now.
The famous “peace” of the Roman Empire (the pax Romana) was an uneasy one because it was enforced with the military might and caprice of a super power. Things might be okay to a client kingdom if it was willing to submit to its terms. However, such peace only gave rise to a seething morass of discontent waiting to explode. And explode it did frequently.
On the other hand, there were zealots who were willing to sacrifice life and limb just to inflict some pain on the reigning power. These revolutionary actions, often violent in nature, only led to a spiral of violence.
However, it was into such a world that the first Christmas came. This world was not a placid one with arms laid down, waiting to welcome the King of kings. It was a world full of violence. But the fact that God did not shrink from sending His Son to such a world and in such circumstances does give us hope. For one thing, it means that He does not work only with ideal situations. He comes to us where we are: in all our mess and folly.
The first Christmas reminds us that God is not afraid to “dirty His hands”. Not only this, in the midst of thick darkness, a ray of divine hope shone. Thus, no matter how dark a period our present world may pass through, we can remain hopeful: hopeful that God will make a way and that the church can be enabled to bring the Gospel of peace to a strife-torn world.
The church must remain confident in the Gospel message with which it has been entrusted. High-level committees, strategic planning and a host of practical plans are not to be despised but these are not the Gospel. They are not that which can reconcile the world to God nor people in the world with each other.
Nothing short of a Gospel which can utterly transform hearts can bring about real healing for the nations. Armed with this, the church stations itself at the crossroads of life and proclaim through word and deed that there is hope in the midst of violence.
Dr Tan Kim Huat, Chen Su Lan Professor of New Testament at Trinity Theological College, is the Dean of Postgraduate Studies at TTC.