The Arab Baptist Theological Seminary wishes you a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year! May the following reflections by members of our community bless you this season
Elie Haddad, President
At Christmastime, I love to reflect, not only on why Jesus came to earth, but also on who He is. Philippians 2:6-11 is one of the most beautiful texts written about Him and about the incarnation. One cannot read it without falling in love with Jesus all over again. The text shows His ultimate sacrifice, His humility, and His self-denial. He is the pre-existent God, with all His glory. Yet out of His own free will, he gave up all that to take the form of a slave, even to the extent of death on a cross. All of this because He loves us so. How can you not fall in love with Him?
However, one cannot read this text without putting it into its context. Suddenly, the most beautiful text becomes the most difficult and challenging text. Paul presents the sacrifice of Jesus as a model for us to follow. We are to think like Him. Paul is using this Jesus paradigm to call us to a radical change of our mindset. This is very hard. We are called to deny ourselves while we are so used to working things to our own favor. We are called to love others and sacrifice for them while we are so used to working toward advancing our own agenda. Can you imagine the kind of Christian community we could have if we all had this kind of attitude?
It would be wonderful, this Christmas season, if we can take some of the beauty that we find in Jesus, learn from it, and start to imitate it and live it among those around us.
Nabil Habibi, Lecturer in New Testament Studies
Birth and early life narratives serve as a reflection on the character’s later life. The wise prophet Samuel was conceived from the persistent prayers of a loving mother, and he heard the intimate voice of God in the Temple from a young age. The courageous leader king David was a brave shepherd who fought off lions and bears to protect his sheep.
An initial glance at the birth narratives of Jesus in Matthew and Luke show a glitch in this formula. Jesus is the Son of God, in whom and for whom all creation was brought into being, and through whose body reconciliation was established between humanity and the divine (Colossians 1). Yet we are hard-pressed to see a reflection of those details in the stories of his birth.
A virgin gives birth in a stable. Shepherds come to see him. Wise men from the East bring him gifts. Eccentric prophets in the Temple praise God for him. He is carried away from danger to Egypt. He is helpless. Unimportant. Except for a few individuals, and a brief episode of anger from king Herod, Jesus’ arrival goes unnoticed. His birth narratives are a far cry from the heightened Christology we see in other New Testament texts.
But perhaps this is the entire thrust of the Christmas tales. In fact, this is the thrust of all the earthly life of Jesus. Before the resurrection of Christ, few truly understood his identity. Before the outpouring of the Spirit and the rapid spread of the early Christian movement, few had heard of this wandering Jewish rabbi who died on a Roman cross.
This is the Christmas story. A helpless baby is the Lord of the universe. This is the gospel. A mustard seed will become a giant tree of life. Blessed be our God for his infinite wisdom.
Emad Botros, Assistant Professor of Old Testament
While driving through the streets of Lebanon this year, I have noticed very few Christmas decorations and lights in Beirut compared to past years. With a sense of lament, I have wondered: “How can we celebrate Christmas when there is such a sense of uncertainty about tomorrow?”
With these thoughts in my mind, I began to picture the first Christmas and considered how Mary felt, as a mother, during this time: her new baby was born in a manger, not at home like any other baby; she did not have any family members around to support her; and there is no decoration around the house to celebrate the arrival of the newborn baby. However, while all signs of celebrating the birth of Jesus were missing from a human perspective, heaven was planning a world-wide celebration for the newborn baby: an angel appeared to a group of shepherds announcing the Good News of the arrival of the Savior (Luke 2:11). A few seconds later, a large choir of angels appeared from heaven, shouting, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). The shepherds then hurried to share with Mary about the angelic party that took place in the middle of the night. At a later point, the wise men also came to congratulate the arrival of the Savior. When everyone left, Mary thought about what she had heard “and treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
As we can see, though all human forms of celebration were missing, a heavenly intervention took place to celebrate the birth of the God-given Son, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
May the beauty of the first Christmas inspire our own celebrations here in Lebanon. May we remember that, while the earth has nothing to offer, and most forms of Christmas celebrations are missing, a heavenly intervention can take place where hope, peace, and joy are pronounced over the country of Lebanon and in the hearts of all Lebanese people. Amen!
Brent Hamoud, Master of Religion Program Lead
Our popularized Nativity scene invariably includes Magi from the East visiting the Holy Family after their long search for Jesus. Such a picture of Christmas may be imaginative, but these wise stargazers certainly illuminate an interesting dimension of Christ’s arrival in the world.
Matthew 2 reports how the Magi carried their search first to the site of power, Jerusalem, before appearing in front of the seat of power to share with King Herod about their quest to locate the king of the Jews. The plot takes an interesting turn as they are sent on a discreet government mission to Bethlehem to find the child and report intelligence back to the Herodian head of state.
Here the wise men found themselves mixed up with the cunning schemes of a devious state. It’s not an outdated dilemma. States tend to take serious interest in the things we seek, the questions we raise, and the beliefs we express. From King Herod to rulers of today, power propels a paranoia that leaves worldly institutions chronically disturbed. Even so, the king’s court is an object of affection for many Christians who cling to any authority they believe will instill their values, enact their policies, and extend their interests. It’s easy to covet a ruler’s attention, but the Magi deflected it. Their encounter with Christ changed them and they defied Herod by returning to their country via another way. Apparently, Jesus alters the way we think about state power and stirs in us new dreams.
This episode is insightful for us today. Regrettably, most people live in states that are more harmful than helpful, and even “good” states tend to be more disturbing than we care to admit. Political power can perplex our faith, but we have confidence knowing that encounters with Christ and visionary dreams of God will show us new directions. As the Church continues to navigate a political world in the Middle East and elsewhere, perhaps it is wise this Christmas to consider other ways.