Christmas Eve

The Birth of Jesus Christ

2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration whenQuirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

– St Luke 2:1-14


Ask the Experts: Christmas Questions

At the Religion News Service:

… we’re starting a new feature here at RNS called “Ask the Experts.”

The idea is, readers like you send in questions about theology, history, literature, or any topic related to religion, and we’ll contact scholars to find out the answers.

In honor of Christmas, our first edition of Ask the Experts tackles questions about the events and traditions surrounding the holy day.

The questions include:

  • Why do some Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7th?
  • Why do we repeatedly hear about the “three wise men,” when biblical scholars tell us there were in fact many magi who attended Jesus after his birth?
  • Why did Mary and Joseph have to go to Bethlehem? How did civil authorities determine which town people had to report to at census-taking time?
  • Is it true that the word translated “inn” – kataluma – could also mean guest room? In other words, could Mary and Joseph been seeking shelter in relative’s guest rooms, rather than at the inn?
  • How was the birth of Christ celebrated before Constantine?
  • Is it true that most Christian churches did not celebrate Christmas in significant way until about a hundred years ago?
  • Is it true that department stores were the ones that started many of the traditions that we celebrate today?

Answers here.




The Chief Rabbi of Canterbury

Last week, after a two-year search, Ephraim Mirvis was announced as the successor to Jonathan Sacks, who is stepping down after 21 years as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain and the Commonwealth.  Rabbi Sacks’ tenure will end concurrently with that of the most senior clergyman in the Church of England, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.  The coincidence of their retirements is apt, since the two men are in many ways alike.  Both are admired in Britain and internationally for their intellect, erudition, and knowledge.  Both speak the language of Britain’s increasingly secular educated elite.  And both have struggled to lead their respective institutions.

Moreover, the Chief Rabbi has in some respects eclipsed the Archbishop as the religious voice of the country.

Rowan Williams’ decade-long stewardship of the Church of England has not been a happy one.  A liberal by temperament, the Archbishop has attempted to appease liberals and conservatives in the Church but satisfied neither.  He angered liberals by blocking the appointment of Jeffrey John, a gay priest, as a bishop in 2003 and again in 2010. But he offended conservatives by failing to sanction the Episcopal Church in the United States for ordaining Gene Robinson, also gay, as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003; the incident led to a formal declaration of schism by several African churches in 2008.  After the Episcopalians consecrated another gay priest as a bishop in 2010, Williams did impose sanctions—causing yet another rift in the Anglican Communion.  He attempted to heal the divisions through an “Anglican Covenant,” which satisfied no one.

Williams’ efforts to resolve a decade-long dispute over female bishops have likewise angered both sides. His compromise amendment to a bill to introduce women bishops was defeated in 2010.  Subsequently, some 60 clergy and 1,000 parishioners, fearing that Anglican women bishops were inevitable, defected to Catholicism.  But last month the General Synod rejected the bill—through the votes of the conservative laity, which outweighed those of the liberal clergy.  Thus, Williams leaves the Church little different, but much more embittered.

If the Archbishop can be excused for failing to unify increasingly divergent Anglican opinions, he must bear some responsibility for the fact that the number of Christians in Britain has fallen by a staggering four million in the past decade: for Williams’ interventions in public life have been not religious but political.  Rather than decrying the secularism of Britain’s Guardianista elite, he has adopted its fashionable causes, attacking the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, bankers involved in the financial crisis, and politicians entangled in Parliament’s expenses scandal.  He has provoked outrage by backing the establishment of sharia courts in the U.K.  He has also condemned the current Conservative government for their modest aim of closing the national deficit by 2015 by trimming public spending (which they have, so far, utterly failed to accomplish).  After he lambasted the education and health reforms of Prime Minister David Cameron as “radical, long-term policies for which no one voted,” Cameron told Williams, in effect, to mind his own ecclesiastical business.

Thus, though the leader of Britain’s established church, the Archbishop has become an unwelcome figure to whom to turn for religious counsel.

Into this breach has stepped the Chief Rabbi…

You simply must read on here.

Judaism having more religious credibility than Anglicanism in Britain? Not hard to believe.




Christianity ‘Close to Extinction’ in Middle East

Sad news, and certainly something to pray about this Christmas eve.

Christianity faces being wiped out of the “biblical heartlands” in the Middle East because of mounting persecution of worshippers, according to a new report.

In the Telegraph:

The study warns that Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group.

And it claims politicians have been “blind” to the extent of violence faced by Christians in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam, it says, claiming that oppression in Muslim countries is often ignored because of a fear that criticism will be seen as “racism”.

It warns that converts from Islam face being killed in Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Iran and risk severe legal penalties in other countries across the Middle East.

The report, by the think tank Civitas, says: “It is generally accepted that many faith-based groups face discrimination or persecution to some degree.

“A far less widely grasped fact is that Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers.”

It cites estimates that 200 million Christians, or 10 per cent of Christians worldwide, are “socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.”

“Exposing and combating the problem ought in my view to be political priorities across large areas of the world. That this is not the case tells us much about a questionable hierarchy of victimhood,” says the author, Rupert Shortt, a journalist and visiting fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.

He adds: “The blind spot displayed by governments and other influential players is causing them to squander a broader opportunity. Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human rights generally.”

The report, entitled Christianophobia, highlights a fear among oppressive regimes that Christianity is a “Western creed” which can be used to undermine them.

State hostility towards Christianity is particularly rife in China, where more Christians are imprisoned than in any other country in the world, according to the report.

It quotes Ma Hucheng, an advisor to the Chinese government, who claimed in an article last year that the US has backed the growth of the Protestant Church in China as a vehicle for political dissidence.

“Western powers, with America at their head, deliberately export Christianity to China and carry out all kinds of illegal evangelistic activities,” he wrote in the China Social Sciences Press.

“Their basic aim is to use Christianity to change the character of the regime…in China and overturn it,” he added.

The “lion’s share” of persecution faced by Christians arises in countries where Islam is the dominant faith, the report says, quoting estimates that between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century.

“There is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands,” it claims.

The report shows that “Muslim-majority” states make up 12 of the 20 countries judged to be “unfree” on the grounds of religious tolerance by Freedom House, the human rights think tank.

It catalogues hundreds of attacks on Christians by religious fanatics over recent years, focusing on seven countries: Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Burma and China.

It claims George Bush’s use of the word “crusade” after the September 11 attacks on New York created the impression for Muslims in the Middle East of a “Christian assault on the Muslim world”.

“But however the motivation for violence is measured, the early twenty-first century has seen a steady rise in the strife endured by Christians,” the report says.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq left Iraqi Christians “more vulnerable than ever”, highlighted by the 2006 beheading of a kidnapped Orthodox priest, Fr Boulos Iskander, and the kidnapping of 17 further priests and two bishops between 2006 and 2010.

“In most cases, those responsible declared that they wanted all Christians to be expelled from the country,” the report says.

In Pakistan, the murder last year of Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s Catholic minister for minorities, “vividly reflected” religious intolerance in Pakistan.

Shortly after his death it emerged that Mr Bhatti had recorded a video in which he declared: “I am living for my community and for suffering people and I will die to defend their rights.

“I prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community rather than to compromise. I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us.”

The report also warns that Christians in India have faced years of violence from Hindu extremists. In 2010 scores of attacks on Christians and church property were carried out in Karnataka, a state in south west India.

And while many people are aware of the oppression faced in Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi and other pro-democracy activists, targeted abuse of Christians in the country has been given little exposure, the report says.

In some areas of Burma the government has clamped down on Christian protesters by restricting the building of new churches.

“Openly professing Christians employed in government service find it virtually impossible to get promotion,” it adds.


Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group…