Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Significance of Christmas Through The Lens Of Four Significant Images Of Our Time.

We do tend to have this idyllic view of the Nativity. We’ve somehow managed to turn the coming of Christ into the world into a  Disney like fantasy  or a Hall mark moment: The star, the shepherd’s and angels, the mysterious men from the east, with their exotic presents. I don’t know about you but I found myself disconnecting these images and the significance of Christ’s coming from the reality of the world we live in. So a few years ago  I wondered how the story of Jesus birth from Matthew and Luke’s gospel might connect with some of the significant  images in our world today. I picked some of the most important photos of the last century and asked what does the Christmas story have to say into this reality.


 I shared one with you a couple of weeks ago. When we looked at the picture taken from the voyager space probe which showed our planet looking like a speck of dust caught in a beam of light. The photo is called the pale blue dot.  It had prompted astronomer Carl Sagan to say we were alone in a dark Universe.  There was no hope of help coming from anywhere. Yet as we have heard from our reading in Isaiah, that’s not the case Christmas tells us another story. Those who live in darkness have seen a great light, for unto us a child is born, the one who made the vastness of it all, became one of us… stepped into our world…

 It’s over a decade from 9/11 and the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. An incident that changed the world and we still live in its shadow as the death of New Zealand Soldiers in Afghanistan this year bought home. 

The picture of terrorists crashing a plane into the twin towers is still a hard image to look at. It leaves a gaping wound in ones soul. And I find myself asking the question where is God in the midst of the terror? Let’s face it weren’t the people on the planes doing this in the name of Allah; in the name of God?

For me Christmas goes a long way to answer that question. In Jesus, Christians believe God became one of us. It was not to luxury, riches, safety and security that this Christ child came it was into an occupied country where freedom was brutally oppressed. Luke’s narrative tells us Joseph and Mary were forced to go to Bethlehem to register in a Census. Matthew’s account of the Christmas narrative tells of a wholesale massacre sparked by Jesus’ coming. When three wise men just about ended ruining  everything, because as Canadian folk singer Bruce Cockburn sings, when that paranoid dictator Herod , is told there is ‘one born king of the Jews’ he sends death squads to kill all male babies under two. Jesus early childhood resounds to the wail of many mothers grieving for their murdered children and he spends his childhood as a refugee hiding in a foreign land.

Where is God in the midst of terror? He came and dwelt in its midst. We see that in Jesus God identifies with the lowly, the poor and those who suffer. Jesus gospel teaching in Matthew will start blessed are the poor of spirit. Jesus suffers and is killed by the worst of human violence and political expediency. Yet in return we do not find heavenly armies invading with overwhelming force rather his words on the cross are “Father forgive them they know not what they do’. His response is an offer for all to come to him to receive forgiveness, then sends them out again “Not to repay evil with evil,” but as St Paul said to the Romans, “ to overcome evil with good”.

The Chinese army rolled into Tiananmen Square to brutally put down a pro-democracy rally. The world watched as one man stepped out in front of the tanks. He tries to persuade his comrades not to obey their orders. He is brushed aside and Tiananmen Square turns into a bloodbath. Despite his defeat the man inspires many to think that just maybe one person can make a difference. The coming Of Christ at Christmas also shows how one person can make a difference and inspires us to stand up and do the same.

Like the man facing the tanks at Tiananmen Square it encourages us that we can make a difference for good. As a Christian I believe that Jesus presence with us gives all who believe the strength to do this.

 This is perhaps the most famous photo of the last century. It has come to encapsulate the horror of war and the civilian price of our conflicts. June 8 1972 and the United States and South Vietnamese forces drop napalm on the village of Trang Bang. Nick Ut took the photo of six-year-old Kim Phuc running from her burning village her back and arm badly burned.

Kim Phuc’s life is radically changed by this moment. She goes through years of pain and suffering. The communist government use her as a propaganda tool. In the midst of all this she hears the good news of Jesus Christ and it changes everything.

In 1996 Kim Phuc, then living in Canada, was invited to speak at the Vietnam War Memorial.
“ Dear friends” she says…
… as you know, I am the little girl who was running to escape from the napalm fire. I do not want to talk about the war because I cannot change history. I only want you to remember the tragedy of war in order to do things to stop fighting and killing around the world. I have suffered a lot from both physical and emotional pain. Sometimes I thought I could not live, but God saved me and gave me faith and hope. Even if I could talk face to face with the pilot who dropped the bombs I would tell him we cannot change history but we should try to do good things for the present and for the future to promote peace…’
(Denise Chong: The Girl In The Picture, 1999. pp362)

In the Crowd was John Plummer who was involved in planning the raid on Trang Bang. They meet that day. He explained who he was and he cried, “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…” Kim Phuc embraced him and said, “I forgive, I forgive”.

 She now works for UNESCO as an ambassador for forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. Her life gives us hope of the change that the Christmas message can bring even in the face of our worst inhumanity. This is the other famous Photo of Kim Phuc taken by the same photographer. It is almost Madonna and child like and speak volumes as to the healing of Kim's life.

“It was fire that burned my body, it was the skill of doctors that mended my skin but it took the power of God to heal my heart.”

So this christmas I hope you might encounter Christ amidst the reality of your life in a way that will bring transformation for you and through you. a light shining in the darkness.

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