Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Day of Reconciliation

Matthew 1:18  Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19  Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20  But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22  All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23  "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." 24  When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25  but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Today is a national holiday in South Africa. This public holiday is rooted in two different (and separated) sections of our community:
·         For white Afrikaners December 16 was the day set aside to celebrate an 1838 victory in battle against the Zulu leader Dingane kaSenzangakhona Zulu. Afrikaner leaders were convinced that God had given this victory in exchange for aVoortrekker vow to keep this day sacred as a holy day.
·         This day marked the 1961 founding of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the African National Congress. As white South Africans celebrated an ancient victory over black people, this became a day that many black South Africans renewed their commitment to overthrow white minority rule. 

This becomes a difficult day for the new South Africa: two such different meanings make this an emotionally divisive day. Those who proposed the new list of national holidays chose this as “The Day of Reconciliation” – but we continue to be a nation divided by race, privilege and history. A New Constitution, or a majority governing party, or tough minded determination cannot force people to be reconciled to one another.

I am convinced that the Christmas story offer us the only real hope of reconciliation. Christmas begins as a story of betrayal and shame... and ends with reconciliation. A righteous young man is betrayed by his fiancé, who is pregnant and he knows it isn‘t his child. He is shamed as a man and as a faithful Jew. Yet he sets aside his personal beliefs and chooses the tougher route – the route of reconciliation. This is not romantic, and is extremely deliberate. And this is only possible because God is in it:  as Matthew points out – “Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."    

This then becomes the hope for my South African nation – and for every nation in need of reconciliation; this is the hope of divided families, and of individuals who are divided one against another: Emmanuel

When God is with us we are enabled to embrace the gritty task of reconciliation.  The challenge of Christmas is for us to be reconciled to one another. Reconciliation is the real meaning of this season.

For Thought
He came down to earth from heaven,
who is God and Lord of all,
and his shelter was a stable,
and his cradle was a stall;
with the poor, the scorned, the lowly,
lived on earth our Saviour holy.
Words: Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), 1848

Fourth Sunday in Advent
4.  God is with us
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 32.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.

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