by Alan M. Guenther,
Assistant Professor of History,
Briercrest College and Seminary
Christian opinions about the Middle East tend to be polarized. Some see Israel as the homeland for God’s chosen people, the Jews, and the Palestinians as the enemy committed to terrorism and the annihilation of the Israeli state. Others see the Palestinians as refugees who have lost their homes and lands, and the Israelis as the primary oppressors, encroaching on Palestinian territories with illegal settlements and attacking regularly with superior military force. As often happens in cases of such polarized opinions, many other Christians end up in a confused middle space, wondering if there might not be some truth in both positions. Continue reading Palestinians and their history→
What if Christmas were cancelled? What would you do?
When Jesus was born only a few people knew who he was. The shepherds knew because the angels told them. The wise men knew because they studied the stars and a new star had appeared. This meant a new king had been born. King Herod knew that if Jesus was a king he was in trouble. He felt threatened that Jesus would take his place. King Herod was so afraid he decided to kill all baby boys just to be sure Jesus would not grow up and would not become king.
But Jesus escaped. Mary and Joseph bundled him up and left Bethlehem. They went to live in Nazareth where no one recognized him. Jesus was safe for now.
Jesus was not ordinary. When he grew up he taught the people about God and that he was God’s Son. He healed the sick and raised them up to live again. People followed him because he gave them hope. When the synagogue leaders saw how popular he was they were very angry. They accused him of blasphemy, lying about being the Son of God, and they killed him. It was a dangerous time for his followers and many went into hiding.
For 300 years the Roman government punished the Christians for not worshipping the Roman gods. One was Sol, the sun god.
In AD 0312, after Jesus was born, Constantine 1 became the new emperor. He worshipped Sol, the sun god, too. One day he was on his way to fight a new battle. On the way God showed him a vision. When Constantine looked up at the sun he saw the shape of a cross over the sun, and the words, “with thissign you will conquer.” He won the battle. Constantine immediately turned to the true God and became a follower of Jesus, and he changed the laws. Christians were no longer punished for believing only the one true God. The Christian church grew and for the first time Christmas Day became a holy day, a holiday, and was celebrated with family and friends. Together they shared feasts and gave gifts to each other.
For several hundreds of years the celebration of Christmas spread from country to country. Celebrations lasted for 12 days from December 25 to January 6. It was a time of feasting and happiness. People decorated their homes with evergreen branches and sang carols. Christmas Day became the most important day of the year.
After a time, in the 1600s, the Puritans, a strict group in the church and in the government, believed the people were celebrating too much. And so they cancelled Christmas. Now celebrating was against the law.
Many years passed. In 1843 a man called Charles Dickens wrote the play, A Christmas Carol. The play tells the story of families celebrating Christmas together, taking care of each other and sharing with others. It is a story of joy and happiness. The play was an instant success. Everyone loved it. Once again the people began to celebrate Christmas.
Today we have the whole story. We celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ birth. We know he is the promised Messiah. We know that he died and rose again. We know that he will return for us. “I will come again,” he promised, “and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” This is why we celebrate Christmas.
Read Luke 2: 1 – 14, and John 14:1 – 6.
Activity: Make a mason jar table centre.
Need: 1 small mason jar, I pint size
3 or 4 pieces evergreen branches, each 8 cm long
½ cupful of fresh, or frozen cranberries
1 piece of raffia ribbon or jute string, 60 cm long
1 floating tea light
enough water to fill the jar
Do: tie the string around the neck of the jar
Place greenery inside the jar
Add the cranberries
Fill the jar with water to about 2 cm from the top
Place the floating tea light on the water
Use the mason jar candle as a center piece or give as a gift
What if I’d lived in 16th century Zurich? I would not have been baptized at the home of Feliz Manz, nor would I have challenged Zurich’s city council. I would not have been burned at the stake.
Rather, I would have consented to attend Reformed services and, if married with a family, to have my children baptized. It is pure fantasy to think that I would have exhibited Anabaptist heroism of the type that inspires 500 years later. Yet this fantasy is only a minor one.
The real fantasy is much greater than this. It is to think that I would have been alive long enough to make any of these choices at all.
Infant mortality rates were much higher then and medical services much poorer. Being born three months prematurely and then having pneumonia, I would have died as an infant and, possibly unnamed, been placed in a small grave and then replaced.
If I had lived for a few years, my physical limitations would have forced me, if fortunate, to be perhaps a cobbler’s apprentice; at worse, to beg on the street. Education, regular employment, marriage, and children would likely have been but bitter dreams.
Four related surgeries during my childhood and as a teen would not have happened; my limitations would have been clearer. A third of a century of marriage, 20 years of education (eight higher), a call to the pastorate, 20 years in the national office, and an enjoyment of the outdoors would not have happened.
This is the only time in history in which I want to live because it is the only time that I would have lived.
Looking around at the world’s situation, much is troubling. Yet I also know that I have received much of Christ’s grace, Canadian privilege, white privilege, and male privilege—as complicated a package as this is. Much of my life is good even as it includes a few obstacles that seem challenging to some observers.
What does this mean? The key question is not what I would have done five centuries ago, but what I am doing today. My privilege involves an obligation to stand up now for people less fortunate. The question includes the risks taken for others today.
One last thought. Many people five centuries ago, under pressure of potential banishment, agreed to attend Reformed services and to present their children for baptism. It’s wrong to think that all of them somehow deserted Christ—to view them as akin to Demas or Judas.
They were not forced to choose between following Christ and not following Christ. They were forced to choose between following Christ as a Reformed member or as an Anabaptist. These choices are not on the same level.
Apparently one of my relatives was born in 1530 in the canton of Berne, five years after and 125 kms away from the start of the Swiss Anabaptist movement in Zurich. By the time of his birth, the movement was active in Berne where many Anabaptists suffered.
If the information about a possible relative is accurate, I don’t know what choices his parents made then. But I know this: their choices during the Reformation were actual, not fantasy. This makes me respect people then who served Christ, both those who stood in a bonfire and those who did not.
Holidays can be a time of togetherness and celebration with traditions that bring joy and warm memories. However, they can also highlight painful parts of life and ostracize those who feel they do not fit in with the celebrations that surround them.
Mother’s Day is no exception, and many people in our churches are acutely aware of the pain this day can bring. In order for churches to welcome all people, and be places of emotional safety, we must be intentional about how, and if, we acknowledge and celebrate this day.
Origins of Mother’s Day
The celebration of mothers goes back to ancient Greece and Rome, where festivals were held to celebrate mother goddesses. Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, is celebrated in some parts of Europe. While it began as a celebration of one’s “mother church,” bringing families together as they all returned to their home church, it has become increasingly secularized.
Our modern Mother’s Day celebration can be traced back to the late 1800’s where Ann Jarvis held work clubs to teach domestic skills to women in West Virginia, as well as care for soldiers wounded in the American Civil War. After the end of the war, these groups organized “Mother’s Friendship Day” events to encourage peace and reconciliation.
When Jarvis died, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, organized the first “Mother’s Day” to honour all that mothers do for their children. As the day became increasingly commercialized, with the giving of flowers and cards to mothers, she fought to keep the day as a celebration of one’s own mother rather than all mothers. Also during this time suffragette and abolitionist Julia Ward Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” appealing for peace.
Mother’s Day in Church Services
Although the origins of Mother’s Day are connected to church attendance and pacifist values, Mother’s Day is not a church holiday and churches are under no obligation to celebrate or recognize this day. It is good to celebrate mothers, and women who mother people in their lives, and this should happen throughout the year. But it is also important to acknowledge that this day is hard for many people.
Given the complicated emotions and memories that are often associated with this day, the dangers of including Mother’s Day in a service often outweigh the benefits. On a personal note, I know many women who have spent years avoiding church on Mother’s Day because attending a service on this day was too painful for them.
Churches that choose to include a celebration of Mother’s Day as part of a church service are wise to do so in a thoughtful and critical way, recognizing that people in the congregation have a variety of backgrounds and experiences that affect how they experience a day that celebrates motherhood.
Some women have lost children, have strained relationships with their children, or have not been able to conceive the children they have so desired. Other people may have difficult relationships with their mothers, are painfully reminded of the loss of their own mother, or feel abandoned by their mother. Churches should be a welcoming place no matter what story we bring.
As churches desire to celebrate mothers, they may unintentionally make this day difficult for some women. In an effort to recognize mothers by giving them flowers or asking them to stand during a service, they have asked the sometimes complicated question of who is a mother. Is a woman who has lost a child to miscarriage or stillbirth considered a mother? What if a woman gave birth in the midst of difficult circumstances and it is not public knowledge that they have a child? If a woman identifies as a mother, but does not have children as a part of their lives, will others make assumptions or ask prying questions? What about foster mothers?
As churches try to include personal stories from congregants and provide space to honour mothers, they may pressure individuals to share when they are not comfortable doing so. No one should ever be put on the spot or pressured to share in a church service, but ensuring emotional safety is especially important on holidays. If people are offered the opportunity to share, churches should give space for a variety of stories about experiences with mothers and motherhood.
Mother’s Day may serve as a yearly opportunity to preach about how women are supposed to live. While this connects to the mother’s work clubs founded by Jarvis, it strays from the focus of celebrating the work of mothers. Mother’s Day should be a celebration of all that women do to love God and serve others. Women need encouragement and affirming words about their worth in God’s eyes, not guilt or pressure to conform to a narrow idea of what women are expected to be.
Womanhood and Motherhood
We must resist the assumption that womanhood and motherhood are synonymous. Scripture describes the pain of women who were unable to have children, a circumstance that came with serious consequences in ancient times (Gen. 29-30).
There are many reasons that women do not have biological children, such as infertility, singleness, and a decision to not pursue parenthood. Motherhood is a good thing, but it does not define one’s value as a person or as a follower of Christ. All people have inherent worth because they are created in the image of God.
We also need to distinguish between a woman who has given birth to a child and women who mother others. One does not need to be a biological mother in order to mother others, loving them and teaching them to love God (Deut. 6:7-9; Luke 18:15-17). Celebrating women who have mothered us does not take away from the celebration of our biological mother. Mother’s Day can be a celebration of women who live in obedience to God’s call on their lives, which may or may not include having biological children.
Taking a Thoughtful Stance
Scripture speaks of God’s comfort and healing for those who are grieving and struggling (Psalm 23; Psalm 34:18; Matt. 5:4). Churches cannot be blind to the pain felt by many people during holidays, including Mother’s Day. Followers of Christ have the privilege of extending the good news of God’s comfort to those who struggle, and in order to do this effectively churches need to be thoughtful and careful of any inclusion of Mother’s Day celebrations in their services.
Heidi Dirks (Braeside), BA, BEd, MA (Counselling), is a member of the Board of Church Ministries.
What is the EMC? “The EMC is a movement of people advancing Christ’s kingdom culture as we live, reach, gather, and teach” (EMC Vision Statement). This is a fine statement.
The EMC is a corporation. The Senate of Canada in 1959 passed an act that lists our name, “head office,” objects [purposes], powers, committees, power to acquire and dispose of properties, and more (check The Constitution).
The EMC is a community of faith; its goal is to serve Christ, not structures. Further, a denomination is “a recognized autonomous branch of the Christian Church” (Oxford Dictionary). This fits the EMC.
Does a denomination require a top-down, episcopal (bishop) structure? Not really. For much of its history, though, the KG had bishops.
For a few people to say that the EMC is not a denomination might come from this desire: “You can’t tell us what to do.” However, mutual accountability and discipline have been important to the Anabaptist faith for 500 years and the wider Christian faith for much longer.
Is the EMC a loose fellowship? What then of The Constitution that details our beliefs, practices, expectations, and structures? It lists how churches are to accept the constitution and give “responsible support of resolutions and programs developed together” (20). The General Board can step in when a leader is unfaithful (19) or a church is in trouble (21). The EMC can dismiss a congregation (20). Does this sound loose?
The “you” to whom we are accountable? Our sisters and brothers that form EMC churches across Canada under Christ. The EMC’s national meetings, boards, committees, and staff members serve only with authority delegated by the churches, but this does not make the relationships or authority any less real.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference