Peace on earth requires understanding

Some Christians will get a Christmas gift this year that goes unnoticed by too many.

Christmas Day will find hospitals and other businesses staffed by Jews who graciously swap off-days with Christians. It’s an annual act of grace by people (Jews) said to be more about law than grace, on behalf of people (Christians) said to be more about grace than law.

It would be interesting to check the work logs on Yom Kippur to see if the converse is true — whether Christians work that day for Jews in order that the latter may observe the Day of Atonement. Surely the daughter religion should honor her mother, given the sacrifices the mother has made for her daughter.

Putting it that way, though, is confusing in its cleverness.

Christians talk of sacrifice as being accomplished once and for all on the cross of Christ. The Jewish sacrificial system thus comes to an end as Jesus offers himself up as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. He is the Christ — the Messiah — who establishes lasting peace between God and humanity. Christmas celebrates one aspect of that sacrifice by affirming the purity of it from the start, due to the virginal conception and birth of Jesus.

Jews sometimes cringe at these claims, while Christians are left wondering why Jews can’t see their own logic that would lead to one faith, not two. But in the spirit of the season and in the pursuit of peace on earth and good will to all, maybe we Christians can step back a bit from the manger and consider why Jews don’t join us in the stable celebration.

As a Christian, I cannot speak for Jews, but I can at least report on what I have heard from them as a Christmas gift in return.

First, just as it is difficult to “just get over” the pain of divorce and the memories of what happened to cause it, so it’s naïve to think that Jews today can separate Christian belief in Jesus as Messiah from untoward Christian behavior toward Jews who don’t so believe.

The old saying holds: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” Christians have a shameful history of scapegoating Jews (read discrimination, pogroms, the Holocaust, and continued hate crimes) for their supposed guilt in crucifying Jesus and rejecting his messiahship. That’s a lot to just get over.

Second, all Jews were not in Jesus’ day, and are not in our day, looking for an individual messiah of Israel. And those that were, were not necessarily looking for more than a messiah of Israel. Jews normally read passages from Isaiah about an individual messiah as being a metonym for the messianic mission of Israel as a whole. They think of it this way: Messiah is to Israel as Uncle Sam is to the United States Government; the individual symbolically personifies the people.

Third, one of the chief duties of Israel has been to proclaim the one God to a world prone to worship many gods. The Trinity confuses strict monotheists: To say that Jesus is Lord either empties heaven of the one God, or makes two gods. The Christmas claim therefore imperils the first article of Jewish belief that lies at the center of their existence.

Finally, any notion of messianic kingdom was filled with expectation of eternal peace and justice, God having put down the powers of evil for good and for good. While Christians declare that truth too, we emphasize the “already” and Jews the “not yet” of these hopes. Which makes many Jews still unable to consider Jesus as God’s messiah.

These disagreements don’t even address other matters like our views of covenant, salvation, the afterlife, judgment and reward, and resurrection. Jews and Christians are people somehow divided by a common ancestor — Jesus — but nevertheless united by a common God — Jesus’ Father.

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