December 2008


As the responses to events in Gaza come in, the word of the day is “disproportionate.” Apparently, Israel’s response to Hamas re-ignition of hostilities doesn’t fit whatever definition of proportionality various politicians, writers, church leaders and others have in mind. Among the statements to mention it is one from the Churches for Middle East Peace (a coalition of 22 denominations that is a creature of the National Council of Churches):

We reject all justifications for the unconscionable Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza into Israel.  We similarly reject the Israeli response as disproportionate and believe that it is likely to strengthen extremists and undermine moderates in the region.

The first part of that is admirably clear and unequivocal. The second is vague, speculative, and doesn’t address the reasons for Israeli action. Anyway, the key here is the assertion that Israel’s response is “disproportionate.”

“Proportionality” is one of the criteria for determining whether a military action is morally legitimate under just-war theory, so by decrying the Israeli response as disproportionate, the decriers are hoping to stigmatize it as immoral. The problem, of course, is that the concept isn’t self-defining, and if there’s one thing that unites all the statements so far, it’s an unwillingness or inability to define the idea. Michael Totten, writing at the Commentary magazine blog “Contentions,” puts his finger on the problem:

“At last count,” J.G. Thayer wrote, “one Israeli and two Palestinians (sisters, ages 13 and 5) died from [Hamas] rocket attacks. So a proportionate response, one presumes, would have required Israel to kill a single Palestinian and two of its own citizens.”

There were, I suppose, other “proportionate” responses available aside from killing one Palestinian and two Israelis. The Israel Defense Forces might have launched thousands of air strikes against targets in Gaza to match the thousands of Qassam rockets fired at the cities of Sderot and Ashkelon. It’s unlikely, however, that this is what Israel’s critics have in mind.

So what do they have in mind? What would a legitimate and “proportionate” response actually look like? Surely they don’t believe Israel should scrap its sophisticated weapons systems, build Qassam rockets, and launch those at Gaza instead.

The “disproportionate response” crowd doesn’t seem to mind that Israel struck back at Hamas per se.

I would dispute this, as I think a lot of Israel’s critics do, in fact, believe that Israel, as the “occupying” power, has no right to retaliate when Hamas attacks. The best evidence of that is that said critics never criticize or condemn Hamas when it is the only one trying to kill its enemies; only when Israel responds is there a perfunctory “oh, and Hamas should stop what they’re doing, too.”

They aren’t saying Israel should only be allowed to negotiate with its enemies or that any use of force whatsoever is wrong.

Once again, I think Totten is giving Israel’s critics, particularly people like Samuel Kobia of the World Council of Churches, too much credit. I think this is exactly what they believe–that Israel has no business ever usiing force, and should use diplomacy as its only means of trying to get Hamas to stop trying to kill its citizens.

They’re clearly saying Israel should use less force, inflict less damage, or both.

One problem here is that it’s not at all clear how they think Israelis should go about doing it. The weapons used by each side can’t be the same. No one has ever said Israel ought to put its superior weapons systems in cold storage until Hamas can develop or purchase something similar. Presumably Israel is allowed to use its superior technology as long as the casualty count on each side is proportionate.

But how would that work in practice? A single Israeli air strike is going to kill at least as many people as Hamas can kill in twelve months. Does that mean Israel should be given a “license” of one air strike per year to use in the war? If IDF commanders want to take out a target where they expect five Hamas leaders or fighters to be killed, do they have to wait until five Israelis are killed first? If the Israelis endure rocket fire until one civilian is killed, do they get a “kill one Palestinian terrorist” coupon?

If strict proportionality isn’t necessary, what are the limits? If the Israelis kill two Palestinians for every Israeli that’s killed, is that okay? Or is doubling the number of casualties on each side too unfair to the Palestinians?

No army in the history of human civilization has ever hamstrung itself with these kind of restrictions in wartime, but let’s leave that aside for the moment and assume the IDF should be the first. Maybe Israeli commanders will be swayed by the legion of bloggers, Arab street radicals, and United Nations apparatchiks. What, precisely, should be the limits and rules of proportionate war? If critics expect to be taken seriously, they will need to advise.

Don’t hold your breath. The claim that Israel is acting “disproportionately” is not a claim that requires any substance or definition for it to serve the purpose of many (I would put people like Kobia, Katharine Jefforts-Schori, Desmond Tutu, and the thug-lovers of the U.S. Campaign to Stop the Israeli Occupation in this category) who so blithely toss it out. Their purpose, to all evidence, is simply to demonize Israel and put it on a moral par with a genocidal gang. From their standpoint, any attempt to put substance to the charge would simply be counter-productive.

Life just got more difficult for churches in New Jersey that have theological objections to blessing gay unions. In a ruling from the state Civil Rights Division, the United Methodist affiliated Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association was found to have discriminated against a pair of lesbians when it denied their request to use an Association facility:

The finding, issued by Division on Civil Rights Director J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, said an investigation had determined there was reason to pursue anti-discrimination charges against the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association for denying Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster permission to rent its Boardwalk Pavilion for their civil union ceremony. Vespa-Papaleo also intervened as a complainant in the case.

Evidently in New Jersey it is OK for a state official to play prosecutor, judge and jury in a case.

Bernstein and Paster, who live in Ocean Grove, had applied for permission to rent the Boardwalk Pavilion for their civil union ceremony in March 2007, but the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association denied their request because it said the civil union ceremony conflicted with the religious beliefs of the United Methodist Church. The Association said it was not required to permit civil union ceremonies in its Boardwalk Pavilion based on First Amendment rights.

However, an investigation found that the refusal to permit the civil union ceremony violated the public accommodation provisions of the state’s Law Against Discrimination and did not violate First Amendment Rights. The Division investigation found that the Camp Meeting Association had been permitting the public to use the Boardwalk Pavilion for weddings and secular events and that the Association had gained a Green Acres tax exemption from the state Department of Environmental Protection nearly 20 years ago after a finding that the Pavilion will be open to the public “on an equal basis.” (Following filing of the civil rights complaint, the DEP rejected a renewal of the Green Acres tax exemption for the Boardwalk Pavilion in September 2007.)

The Finding of Probable Cause states in part, “When it invites the public at large to use it, the Association is subject to the Law Against Discrimination, and enforcement of that law in this context does not affect the Association’s constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion.”

That last claim is extraordinary–public accommodations laws that have never been applicable to religious facilities now trump the First Amendment in New Jersey. Here’s where the problem comes in: A lot of churches will permit non-church members to use its facility for a wedding, and many of those same churches will open their doors to secular events (anything from concerts to AA meetings). While the Camp Meeting Association pavilion isn’t a church building, it certainly is a “religious facility” at least as much as a church family life center or amphitheater would be. What New Jersey is saying, in essence, is that if churches allow their facilities to be used by the public, they are risking being sued by gays and having the state CRD play enforcer to coerce them into having their buildings used for purposes to which they are unalterably opposed. The public will be hurt by that, as churches make perfect places to hold many events, and churches will be hurt, by being unable to extend hospitality to others, but I suppose that doesn’t make any difference to the enforcers of the new sexual morality orthodoxy.

There are lots of people out there trying to make the case that legalizing gay marriage will have no effect on anyone else. This case suggests otherwise.

(Via Alliance Alert.)

Perhaps while the World Council of Churches, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (see previous post) are calling on Israel to stop being mean to Hamas, the could address this item reported by Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post (originally reported by the London-based Arab daily Al Hayat):

Both Iran and its Hamas proxy in Gaza have been busy this Christmas week showing Christendom just what they think of it. But no one seems to have noticed.

On Tuesday, Hamas legislators marked the Christmas season by passing a Shari’a criminal code for the Palestinian Authority. Among other things, it legalizes crucifixion.

Hamas’s endorsement of nailing enemies of Islam to crosses came at the same time it renewed its jihad. Here, too, Hamas wanted to make sure that Christians didn’t feel neglected as its fighters launched missiles at Jewish day care centers and schools. So on Wednesday, Hamas lobbed a mortar shell at the Erez crossing point into Israel just as a group of Gazan Christians were standing on line waiting to travel to Bethlehem for Christmas.

Words fail me.

(Via Little Green Footballs.)

Perhaps because offices are closed during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, the mainline churches have not responded to the ongoing events in the Gaza Strip. The World Council of Churches, through its general secretary the Rev. Samuel Kobia, has:

The first word to say to the violence against Gaza is ‘Stop’. Over 300 lives lost, more than 1,000 people wounded, uncounted thousands traumatized, bombardment of one of the most densely populated places on earth… this must stop immediately.

For over 18 months–since Israel withdrew from Gaza–Hamas has been shelling southern Israeli towns. Even during the so-called “truce” that was agreed to in June, that shelling continued sporadically. Kobia has, as he does in this statement, put out perfunctory calls for Hamas to stop. Yet he never rouses himself to issue this call unless Israel has retaliated, never issues it as a stand-alone, never indicates that he understands that Israel attacks Gaza, not just for the fun of it, but because it gets tired of the daily terrorizing of its citizenry. In this particular instance, he also doesn’t mention that the evidence is that most of those killed have been Hamas terrorists–in other words, legitimate targets. There have been civilian casualties as well, and that’s tragic. But as careful as Israel is to minimize civilian casualties, it must be said that if Hamas didn’t use it’s own people as human shields, most if not all of those wouldn’t have happened. Oh, and I can’t help but notice what Hamas’ first reaction to the attacks on its security installations was–a threat to return to suicide bombing specifically directed against civilians.

Governments in the region and abroad, the Arab League, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations must use their good offices to see that all those who are at risk are protected, on both sides of the border, and must ensure access for emergency and medical aid. The deaths and suffering of the last three days are dreadful and shameful and will achieve nothing but more deaths and suffering.

Actually, if in fact most of the casualties of the last three days have been Hamas gunmen, I’d say they are anything but dreadful and shameful. It is sad and unfortunate that they have been necessary, but Israel still has a right to self-defense from a terrorist organization that continues to vow that nothing less than the destruction of the Jewish state will satisfy it.

People around the world are looking for change that brings peace closer in the Middle East. A terrible period of deadlock and deprivation has now erupted into greater violence. Policies that rely on cutting off shipments of food, medicine and fuel for 1.5 million Gazans and on sending rockets across borders at random or ‘surgically’ only confirm how far from the path of peace the current authorities have strayed. To use ground forces would deepen the current disaster. Collective punishment against one’s neighbors is illegal and has no place in building peace.

I agree with him about ground forces–Israel’s air force has apparently been very effective, so there’s no reason to to invade at this point. But a word must be said here about “collective punishment.” That’s the current phrase of choice on both the religious and secular left to describe Israel’s treatment of Gaza. Several things need to be said: 1) Israel has not isolated Gaza by itself–Egypt has been fully cooperative, which is not surprising since the Egyptians see the thugocracy of Gaza as a threat to their own security. 2) Israel has consistently allowed various necessary supplies into the country, though at times they have squeezed the free flow of necessary goods using the same logic as UN sanctions against Iraq (whether rightly or wrongly is another question). 3) Most importantly, it must be remembered that Hamas is the government of Gaza. The people there voted for them, and when Hamas kicked out Fatah last year, the population was with them. To the extent that Gazans support Hamas in its continued military assault on Israel, they and their Western supporters should expect consequences.

At the beginning of 2008, the World Council of Churches central committee condemned attacks on civilians in and around Gaza, called for all who exercise authority over Gaza including the government of Israel and Hamas to respect international humanitarian and human rights law, and urged member churches to pray and work for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

There’s a false moral equivalence here that characterizes everything that the WCC says about the Middle East. Hamas targets civilians; Israel tries to avoid military action against them. Hamas wants Israel destroyed; Israel wants only to be left alone. Hamas has attacked Israel daily; Israel attacks only when its patience runs out. Israel has done what the world demanded and pulled out of Gaza; Hamas isn’t satisfied and continues to attack Israel using the now-unoccupied Gaza as a base. I’m glad the WCC has “condemned attacks on civilians in and around Gaza.” Now, if they want to be taken seriously, they ought to do something they’ve never once done–condemn Hamas for its genocidal ambitions, and make clear that negotiation with such an entity is impossible unless it changes its goals as well as its tactics.

UPDATE: The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church weighs in:

Yesterday afternoon in New York, outside the Episcopal Church Center, a demonstration took place in front of the Israeli consulate.  The demonstrators included orthodox Jews.  All were calling for an immediate end to the attacks in Gaza.  I join my voice to theirs and those of many others around the world, challenging the Israeli government to call a halt to this wholly disproportionate escalation of violence.

In other words, Israel is not allowed to do anything that would actually end the threat to its civilian population. It may kill as many terrorists as the terrorists kill civilians, and may only use Qassam rockets and mortars to do so. At least that’s what I’m guessing, since she doesn’t bother to say what constitutes the disproportionality in Israel’s response.

I challenge the Palestinian forces to end their rocket attacks on Israelis.

Those attacks have been going on for a while now. I couldn’t find any prior call from Bishop Schori on the ECUSA Web site for Hamas to stop those attacks.

I further urge the United States government to use its influence to get these parties back to the negotiating table and end this senseless killing.

What does she mean, “back to the negotiating table”? Since when has Hamas ever “negotiated” with Israel. Yeah, they agreed to a truce back in June–the technical term is hudna, and it means “time to reload.” Hamas then broke it by trying to build a tunnel into Israel for the purpose of kidnapping soldiers. When Israel took action to destroy that tunnel, Hamas started shelling again in earnest. Throughout these events, Schori had nothing to say. Only when Israel takes serious action does it become necessary to raise her voice in protest.

President-elect Obama needs to be part of this initiative, which demands his attention now and is likely to do so through his early months in office.

Last time I checked, “president-elect” was not an official government position. Barack Obama has quite rightly said that the United States only has one president at a time, yet George Bush’s name doesn’t appear in this statement.

I urge a comprehensive response to these attacks.  Innocent lives are being lost throughout the land we all call Holy, and as Christians remember the coming of the Prince of Peace, we ache for the absence of peace in the land of his birth.

Jesus was born in the Gaza Strip? Who knew?

I ask all people of faith to join with the Episcopalians in Jerusalem

There are “Episcopalians” in Jerusalem? Really?

who this Sunday dispensed with their usual worship services and spent their time in prayer for those who are the objects of this violence.

By all means–pray for the terrorists who are the objects of the Israeli action. Pray that they will repent of their evil, and their genocidal bloodlust, and come to a desire to make peace with their neighbors.

UPDATE: The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation counts among its steering committee representatives of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and the American Friends Service Committee. It had this to say:

As of this writing, Israeli Air Force attacks today on the occupied Gaza Strip killed an estimated 200 or more people and injured hundreds more. These Israeli attacks come on top of a brutal siege of the Gaza Strip, which has created a humanitarian catastrophe of dire proportions for Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinian residents by restricting the provision of food, fuel, medicine, electricity, and other necessities of life.

While the scope of civilian casualties in today’s attacks is not yet clear, it is unmistakable that Israel carried out these attacks with F16 fighter jets and missiles provided by the taxpayers of this country. From 2001-2006, the United States transferred to Israel more than $200 million worth of spare parts to fly its fleet of F16’s. In July 2008, the United States gave Israel 186 million gallons of JP-8 aviation jet fuel. Last year, the United States signed a $1.3 billion contract with Raytheon to transfer to Israel thousands of TOW, Hellfire, and “bunker buster” missiles. [Emphasis in original.]

In short, Israel’s lethal attack today on the Gaza Strip could not have happened without the active military and political support of the United States. Therefore, we need to take action to protest this attack and demand an immediate cease-fire.

You’ll notice what’s missing from that, I’m sure. That’s not surprising, of course, since the U.S. Campaign recently sent a letter to the president-elect calling for  him to:

*Insist that Israel ends its siege of the Gaza Strip.
*Demand a freeze in the construction of settlements and Israel’s Wall in the West Bank.
*Hold Israel accountable for its misuse of U.S. weapons.
*End the U.S. veto protecting Israel at the United Nations.
*Base a just peace on human rights, international law, and equality. Such a policy is the only way to ensure the legitimate security needs of all peoples and can only be achieved by engaging in dialog with all interested parties. A just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace includes the complete end of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip; a resolution to the Palestinian refugee issue consistent with international law and UN resolutions, including the right of return and/or compensation; and full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel. A policy denying Palestinians these internationally-guaranteed rights will only lead to yet another failed “peace process”.

Why they don’t just call on Israel to hand over its government to Hamas I’m not sure, since it’s obvious that they have no more concern for Israel’s security than the terrorist group. This letter, by the way, was signed by, among others, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Interfaith Peace Builders (a subsidiary of Fellowship for Reconciliation), and various chapters of Pax Christi, as well as secular far-left organizations such as the National Lawyers Guild and United for Peace and Justice.

UPDATE: Archbishop Desmond Tutu continues to embarrass himself every time he speaks about Middle East issues. According to the Independent Online of South Africa:

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza “bears all the hallmarks of war crimes”, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said in a statement on Sunday.

“In the context of total aerial supremacy, in which one side in a conflict deploys lethal aircraft against opponents with no means of defending themselves, the bombardment bears all the hallmarks of war crimes.”

Presumably Tutu won’t be happy until either Israel gives Hamas their own F-16s, or anti-aircraft batteries, or pledge to use nothing but pikes and lances in their response to mortar and rocket fire. By the way, he should tell the people Hamas has killed in Israel over the last three days that they can’t be dead, because Hamas can’t defend itself.

The attacks, in retaliation for rockets fired by the Palestinians, would not contribute to the security of Israel, he said.

“It is a blight not only on the Middle East, but on the entire world – and particularly world leaders who have consistently failed the people of Palestine and Israel over the past 60 years.”

Whatever.

Noted theologian and New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow wants you to know that if you think Jesus Christ is important to salvation, you’re a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal, as well as a minority:

In June, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life.

This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. After all, the Bible makes it clear that heaven is a velvet-roped V.I.P. area reserved for Christians. Jesus said so: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” But the survey suggested that Americans just weren’t buying that.

And since we all know that truth is determined by majority vote, it looks like evangelicals must be wrong, at least in the mind of a snarky Times columnist.

So in August, Pew asked the question again. (They released the results last week.) Sixty-five percent of respondents said — again — that other religions could lead to eternal life. But this time, to clear up any confusion, Pew asked them to specify which religions. The respondents essentially said all of them.

And they didn’t stop there. Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go.

Thereby demonstrating that 65% of Americans either are not Christians or are Christians who are theologically and biblically illiterate. What’s your point?

One very plausible explanation is that Americans just want good things to come to good people, regardless of their faith. As Alan Segal, a professor of religion at Barnard College told me: “We are a multicultural society, and people expect this American life to continue the same way in heaven.”

And he says that like it’s a good thing. I like living in America just fine, but I’d like to think heaven will be a bit better than that. Blow, by the way, is a typically liberal Times columnist who normally doesn’t have much good to say about life in these United States. If heaven is like present-day America, presumably Blow will spend eternity criticizing God for not living up to his (Blow’s) ideals.

He explained that in our society, we meet so many good people of different faiths that it’s hard for us to imagine God letting them go to hell. In fact, in the most recent survey, Pew asked people what they thought determined whether a person would achieve eternal life. Nearly as many Christians said you could achieve eternal life by just being a good person as said that you had to believe in Jesus.

See previous comment re: illiteracy.

Also, many Christians apparently view their didactic text as flexible. According to Pew’s August survey, only 39 percent of Christians believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, and 18 percent think that it’s just a book written by men and not the word of God at all. In fact, on the question in the Pew survey about what it would take to achieve eternal life, only 1 percent of Christians said living life in accordance with the Bible.

Ditto on the 18%. I must confess that I have no clue what that last item actually means.

Now, there remains the possibility that some of those polled may not have understood the implications of their answers. As John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, said, “The capacity of ignorance to influence survey outcomes should never be underestimated.” But I don’t think that they are ignorant about this most basic tenet of their faith. I think that they are choosing to ignore it … for goodness sake.

And this is what this is all leading up to: lots of Christians are deliberately choosing to ignore important teachings of their faith, important elements of what it is that makes them Christians, and that’s a good thing, at least in the pages of the New York Times.

Surprise, surprise.

Via Hot Air comes perhaps the best word yet on the Rick Warren inaugural kerfuffle. Cartoonist Jim Morin of the Miami Herald sums up the hypocrisy on the left regarding Warren’s invocation:

obama_dems_hypocrisystandaloneprod_affiliate562

So to all those folks who faces are turning purple contemplating the presence of Rick Warren in Washington on January 20: get over it.

The Rev. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, puts out a Christmas message that demonstrates decisively that he doesn’t understand the gospel. (That doesn’t mean he isn’t a Christian, just that he doesn’t understand the message that he’s supposed to be spreading.) He writes:

In celebrating Christmas, we recognize the coming of Jesus as the meeting-point of heaven and earth, the means of healing our broken relations with God, overcoming our hostility towards one another and re-kindling our determination to seek peace in this world. “That is,” the apostle Paul explained, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Reconciliation is a glorious message. It offers the promise that some wrongs of the past may be set right, the truth may be discovered in all cases, forgiveness may be sought and even ancient enemies may come to live together in mutual respect. It is a message of mercy and hope that reflects the great gift of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

The United Nations has declared 2009 to be the International Year of Reconciliation and has called on societies that have been divided by conflict to adopt reconciliation processes in order to establish firm and lasting peace. Christian churches everywhere, and the World Council of Churches, are supporting this effort through projects and ministries consistent with the ecumenical Decade for Overcoming Violence; Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace (2001-2010).

We commit ourselves as Christians, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to this great purpose. And we give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the opportunity to work for reconciliation with men and women of good will throughout the world, in the spirit of the angels’ blessing: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth, peace among those whom God favours!”

What he’s done here is abstract the message of reconciliation from Christ and His Body and project it on to the world as a whole. Thus, while the New Testament is crystal clear that the gospel is for individuals who are joined in Christ as the people of God, Kobia takes it to be a general theme that can be applied to any political situation. Furthermore, he takes it that monumentally flawed, merely human institutions such as the United Nations can step in and achieve politically what Christ did in His incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. It’s true that he doesn’t say that in so many words (though his last paragraph comes awfully close), but if that isn’t what he means, why include the UN proclamation as part of a Christmas message?

It’s a sad fact that the would-be diplomats in Geneva seem to no longer be capable of distinguishing between statecraft and the mission of the Church, and the result is that they aren’t any good at either one.

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature’. 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.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

–John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople (398-403) and greatest of all Christian preachers, “Homily on Christmas Morning”

When I was growing up, December was never complete without “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Along with the carols of the Nativity season, it probably did more than anything else to prepare me for my reading of the New Testament, through which I became a Christian in 1977. To this day, I can recite Luke 2:8-14 in King James English, because Linus taught it to me:

Christmas is supposed to be a season of peace, love and goodwill. I have to wonder, then, why some conservative religious groups persist in using this time of year to divide Americans and stir up interfaith tensions.

–The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, whose sentiment dovetails so nicely with this one:

“At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Message on sign at Washington State Capital from the Freedom from Religion Foundation

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