This is the third entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we will be releasing Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land. Catch up now: Advent I: Hope and Advent II: Peace.
Joy to the World: The Confession of a Jerusalem Resident
One of the most beloved Christmas carols—one we all know by heart—is not really about Christmas. Yet throughout the holiday season, “Joy to the world” is everywhere. We hear it on the radio, in shopping malls, at candlelight services, and it’s always blaring through the rickety speakers of Christmas-tree lots.
Even so—the lyrics of “Joy to the World” were not written about Christmas. Issac Watts composed the hymn in 1719 as a paraphrase of Psalm 98 and envisioned the tune as a celebration of Christ’s return at the end of days. “Joy to the World” was written about Christ’s second coming—not his first. The song is the victory anthem of a triumphant king, not the words-set-to-music of a fragile, crying baby in a manger subject to the death-warrant of a jealous king, Herod.
I was troubled when I first learned this. I didn’t want some historical detail about authorial intent getting in the way of my festive Christmas singing. But with time, I began to ponder: why would these lyrics fit so well with Christmas? Why would they resonate so deeply with both Christ’s second and first coming?
This is the second entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we will be releasing Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land. Catch up now: Advent I: Hope.
On Peace, by Joy of Reconciliation
The true joy of the feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is often mistranslated by the world, packaged to us in the form of abundance, private gatherings, indulgence in food and gifts, and wrapped in stress. The world, in its fallen state, skews matters of the divine and leaves us empty. The world, in its fallen state, which rejected Christ, belittles His creation and mocks the true human potential. But beautifully, the gift of Christ’s Divine Incarnation and subsequent Crucifixion and Resurrection always resonates with the human soul. His love in these acts is transformative. It is a gift of peace, meant for all. It lifts us up and inspires us to reach our highest calling. Those imbued with such love have lined the darkest chapters of human history with opportunities for light. We call them
peacemakers, and in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9).
This is the first entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we will be releasing Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land.
Hope Incarnate: Advent Reflection from Bethlehem
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out
hate; only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
As the days shorten, and the heat of late summer begins to subside, giving way to the cooler wintry sun, Bethlehem is preparing for Christmas. Lights and decorations are going up everywhere, and the Christmas Tree in Manger Square stands as a symbol of joy and hope in the town where Christ was born.
The other evening, I crossed through Checkpoint 300 (the main checkpoint which separates occupied Bethlehem from Jerusalem) and walked along the Separation Wall and into the Aida refugee camp. The Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem was set up shortly after the 1948 Nakba when families were forced to flee from their homes in what is now the State of Israel. Over the years, like many other refugee camps across the West Bank & Gaza, Aida has suffered from a lack of amenities, poor housing, and has frequently been subject to military incursions and reprisal.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Read more
Psalm 80: 3, 6-7
Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved. . . .
You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors
and our enemies mock us.
Restore us, God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors. Read more
“Yes, indeed—God is my salvation. I trust, I won’t be afraid. God—yes God!—is my strength and song, best of all, my salvation!” Joyfully you’ll pull up buckets of water from the wells of salvation. And as you do it, you’ll say, “Give thanks to God. Call out his name. Ask him anything! Shout to the nations, tell them what he’s done, spread the news of his great reputation! “Sing praise-songs to God. He’s done it all! Let the whole earth know what he’s done!”
Isaiah 12:2-5 (MSG)
Take courage for there is joy in this life!
For many Christians observing the third week of Advent, they will read the words of the prophet Isaiah. These words call them to give thanks and praise to the Lord God, with a joy that springs forth from God’s “wells of salvation.” This good news of salvation became flesh with the birth of Jesus, entering into the lived reality of humanity on earth. Today, this call to joy is in the very practical act of collecting water. “Joyfully you’ll pull up buckets of water from the wells of salvation.” These words remind us that it is the fundamentals of being human that truly matter and are quite beautifully, enough. Read more
“[During] the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” Luke 3.2-6
During the season of Advent, Christians across the world wait with eager expectation for the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. While we celebrate Jesus’ arrival and the ways in which he modeled how we are to live, it is no doubt troubling to many how far away we are from the peace Jesus preached. From the rise of white supremacy in the United States, to the continued conflicts in the Middle East, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction of Peace. For those of us committed to a just, lasting, and peaceful resolution to the conflict in Israel/Palestine, and throughout the Middle East; we might wonder if our efforts are in vain. Read more
In you, Lord my God,
I put my trust.
I trust in you;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.
Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior, Read more
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.
As we celebrate the final Sunday of Advent, as well as Christmas Eve, it is only fitting to focus on Jesus—Emmanuel, God With Us—who is Love. With so much discussion in the news about the actions of the powerful, of nations, states, and politicians, let us remember our savior, who came into the world in the most vulnerable of circumstances. He came as a baby, born in the most dire of circumstances, to parents who weren’t even wed. And yet, his birth changed everything. Through him we are able to see God, because he is God. Read more
The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) is a council of church bodies throughout the Middle East: Lebanon, Jerusalem and the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. In some ways, it’s like an extended family gathering. In fact, the MECC is organized around four families of churches – Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical/Protestant. Together, these churches are working to support each other and build bridges between people and groups in the Middle East.
MECC was founded in 1974 as a collaboration between the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Protestant churches of the region. The Catholic church joined in 1990 as a fourth tradition on the council. Each of these four “ecclesial families” is represented by a president and members on MECC’s executive committee. Working as an ecumenical group is not always easy, and building a consensus among the different churches can be a long process. But the result is that MECC can offer powerful statements that carry the weight of their shared deliberation. Fr. Michel Jalakh is Secretary General of the Council, with the headquarters located in Beirut, Lebanon.