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Bethlehem: The Place of Struggle and the Hope of Humanity

"For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker."

Saint John Chrysostom

This past summer, at the close of the GAFCON Conference, I rented a car and drove into Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of the birth of Jesus. A church has stood there since the 4th Century. Saint Jerome says that in 135, the Emperor Hadrian dedicated the site to Adonis to wipe out the memory of Jesus from the world. Now, the church stands in the middle of Palestinian territory, surrounded by walls. The residents of Bethlehem are nationless prisoners, unable to get out, most of them unable to get passports. The word Bethlehem means "house of bread" or "house of struggle" in the Hebrew language, and as I drove up to the church, I was reminded that very little has changed. Our world is still at war, still mired in conflict. Today, a war has been raised in the halls of government and in the academy against all that is transcendent, all that is outside of this physical realm.

Last week, Wang Yi, a Chinese pastor, was arrested with his wife and about a hundred others for activities which the Chinese state has deemed subversive. What is so subversive? They have refused to be absorbed as a church into the state apparatus. They have refused to place obedience to the state above obedience to Jesus Christ. In an open letter, Pastor Wang wrote:

"Jesus is the Christ, son of the eternal, living God. He died for sinners and rose to life for us. He is my king and the king of the whole earth yesterday, today, and forever. I am his servant, and I am imprisoned because of this. I will resist in meekness those who resist God, and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws."

Yes, there has always been an attempt afoot to wipe Jesus Christ and his memory from the earth. At the heart of Christian believing is the conviction that God the Son has wrapped himself in our humanity, that He has become one of us. That being true, those who are His own have only one calling: total surrender and total obedience. If we are to live rightly in this world, so characterized by struggle, it can only be by being a people of continual remembrance: the remembrance of the great work of God in redeeming us, the great work of the Incarnation, the great work of the Lord's Death and Resurrection. And so, we gather this Christmas to remember, and more than remember, to know this great mystery again, to engage in the subversion of this world by the proclamation of the Gospel.

Each Christmas, the Church is returned to Bethlehem, a place of struggle, a place of unspeakable ambiguity, to worship, to rejoice, and to pray, knowing that God has reached into the darkness of this world himself, knowing that God has come to dwell among us as one of us. And that is the hope of Christmas, that we have not been abandoned to chaos, but have been rescued and powerfully redeemed by this great gift.

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