Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is also relevant for non-Christians

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Mon, 2022-01-17
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The Middle East Council of Churches chose the theme of this year’s week of prayer (January 18-25) “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). This refers to the magi or wise men from the East, men who had studied the stars and saw a message of God in the stars just as all of us receive messages from God in the faith we adhere to. These wise men were scholars. In these days no difference was made between astronomy and astrology. Today we won’t look for God’s message in the stars as these men did. In Egypt this week of prayer is relevant for both Muslims and Christians.


On the website of the World Council of Churches we read:  “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). According to the Gospel of Matthew (2:1-12), the appearance of the star in the sky of Judea represents a long-awaited sign of hope, that leads the Magi, and indeed all peoples of the earth, to the place where the true king and Saviour is revealed. This star is a gift, an indication of God’s loving presence for all humanity [CH: this not Christians only]. To the Magi it was a sign that a king was born. With its rays, it leads humanity towards a greater light, Jesus, the new light who enlightens every person and who leads us into the glory of the Father and the splendour of his radiance. Jesus is the light who has come into our darkness when, by the Holy Spirit, he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became human.” Christians need to realize the great reference of Muslims for the Virgin Mary and Jesus. That explains that since 2002 January 7, Coptic Orthodox Christmas, is an official public holiday. President al-Sisi came to the Christmas eve celebration on January 6 in the new Cathedral in the new administrative capital. Muslims would not speak of God the Father since they do not recognize the Trinity but Muslims too speak of the glory of God. Muslims revere the Virgin Mary and accept the virgin birth of Jesus but won’t speak of an incarnation. It is not faith in God but the Trinity that is a major difference between Muslims and Christians. But how much larger was the difference in Jesus’ days between Jews and the magi coming from the East. We do not know which country? Was it Babylon, Persia? It also does not matter.


“Traditionally commentators have seen in the figures of the Magi a symbol of the diversity of peoples known at that time, and a sign of the universality of the divine call which appears in the light of the star shining from the east. They also see in the Magi’s eager search for the new-born king, all humanity’s hunger for truth, for goodness and for beauty. Humanity has been longing for God since the beginning of creation in order to give him homage.”


The text of the World Council of Churches also reads “The mission of the Christian people, therefore, is to be a sign like the star, to guide humanity in its hunger for God, to lead all to Christ, and to be the means by which God is bringing about the unity of all peoples.”  Here Christians have been doing a vey poor job. Since the beginning of Christianity Christians have been fighting about the answer to the question of who is Jesus. Various church councils are witness to this. When the Prophet Muhammad [Muḥammad] came he found a highly divided Christian church and gave his own answer to the question that had divided Christians for so many centuries: Jesus is prophet, not one person in a Holy Trinity.


“The star rose in the east (Mt 2:2). It is from the east that the sun rises, and from what is called the Middle East that salvation appeared by the mercy of our God who blessed us with the dawn from on high (Lk 1:78). But the history of the Middle East was, and still is, characterized by conflict and strife, tainted with blood and darkened by injustice and oppression.”


But “it was in the Middle East that the Word of God took root and bore fruit: thirty and sixty and one hundredfold. And from this east that the apostles set out to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Middle East gave thousands of Christian witnesses and thousands of Christian martyrs. And yet now, the very existence of the small Christian community is threatened as many are driven to seek a more secure and serene life elsewhere.


Yet, “the star of Bethlehem is a sign that God walks with his people, feels their pain, hears their cries, and shows them compassion. It reassures us that though circumstances change and terrible disasters may happen, God’s faithfulness is unfailing. The Lord neither slumbers nor sleeps. He walks beside his people and brings them back when they are lost or in danger. The journey of faith is this walking with God who always watches over his people and who guides us in the complex paths of history and life.”


“What does this mean in practice? Serving the Gospel today requires a commitment to defending human dignity, especially in the poorest, the weakest and those marginalized. It requires from the churches transparency and accountability in dealing with the world, and with each other. This means churches need to cooperate to provide relief to the afflicted, to welcome the displaced, to relieve the burdened, and to build a just and honest society. This is a call for churches to work together so that young people can build a future that accords to God’s heart, a future in which all human beings can experience life, peace, justice, and love. The new way between the churches is the way of visible unity that we sacrificially seek with courage and audacity so that, day after day, “God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).


The text on the website of the World Council of Churches served as inspiration for sermons in churches worldwide. Rev. Maarten Groen of the Christian Reformed Church of The Hague was one of the many pastor and priests preaching about this.


We have to search for what the will of God in our lives is (Letter of Paul to the Ephesians 5: 17). Christians do this in the Bible. The Jewish scholars in the first century did so in the Jewish scriptures. Muslims do this in the Qur’an and the magi did so in the stars. We should not be following them in doing so but it does show a world in all its diversity searching for God, meaning and direction in life. The magi first went to Jerusalem which made sense. Jewish scholars and king Herod were informed. The Jewish scribes referred, according to Mathew 2:6 to the prophecy of Micah 5:2 which refers to Bethlehem as the birthplace of a leader in Israel, interpreted by Matthew as the Messiah. Micah prophesied around 700 BC. Groen finds it remarkable that the Jewish scholars referred to Bethlehem but did not join the magi in their journey to Bethlehem, only around 10 km south of Jerusalem.  We are often fully focused on knowledge, Groen says, that we ignore the signs. I would like to add that we are often so focused on knowledge within our own traditions and ignore the signs coming from different perspectives.  There is much darkness in the world. This is not just speaking about hardship of Christians in the Middle East and the various problems our earth is facing but this also concerns our personal lives. We can be fully stuck in our own problems but need to realize that there is hope in the light we see.


This week of prayer this is a good moment to present you our first newsletter for 2022. May God bless you all and may He shine His light on all of us.


January 17, 2022


Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor-in-Chief Arab-West Report