Need for Jesus at Speaker’s Corner

Need for Jesus at Speaker’s Corner.

Brother Steve shares how the world needs the love of God.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 (NKJV)

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Christmas carol singing at Speaker’s Corner

Christmas carol singing at Speaker’s Corner

Details of each piece can be found at the following links: Joy to the World https://hymnary.org/text/joy_to_the_w… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joy_to_… Angels from the Realms of Glory https://hymnary.org/text/angels_from_… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angels_… O Come All Ye Faithful https://hymnary.org/text/angels_from_… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Come,… O Little Town of Bethlehem https://hymnary.org/text/o_little_tow… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Littl… Hark! The Herald Angels Sing https://hymnary.org/text/hark_the_her… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hark!_T…

All of the songs we sang are pre-twentieth century and are out of copyright.

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Is Christmas fake news?

 

Star decoration

This advent has been filled with evangelistic events, carol services, pub carolling etc, all trying to wrench Christmas back from the fat red man and bring our attention back to the baby in the manger. Because only the baby in the manger lived the perfect life, died and rose again and promises eternal life to all who believe in Him (John 3:16, John 5:24.) What hope! All while the fat red man – the one invented by Coca Cola I mean-only gets us fatter and sadder and lonelier after we have eaten or played with or passed on his offerings to the charity shop.

Each year I try and invite my Muslim friends to Carol services (or whatever), and every year I get a response like this one, this time from a good friend:

WhatsApp message

This was followed, as has happened before, with a link to a dawah video about Jesus Was Never Born on 25th December and  How Christmas Is Actually a Pagan Festival. In the video I watched, I learnt that gingerbread men are haram, because they are symbolic of pagan massacres. And yet the same dawah people, who warn of the evils of children’s biscuits, are very shy when it comes to making videos on why some Muslims literally massacre people at Christmas markets. (This guy has no videos on violence in Islamic teaching at all.)

The evidence for whether Jesus was actually born on 25th December is a bit sketchy.  It has some patristic support: according to this article, Hyppolytus (ca. 170-236) claimed that Jesus was born on December 25, as did John Chrystostom (ca.349-407) and  Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 348-386). Other Church Fathers, such as Iraeneus, (c140-202) said Jesus was born in the 41st year of the reign of Augustus, who began his reign autumn 43 BC, making Jesus’ birth ‘the autumn’ of 2BC. Eusebius’ dating is similar. Others argue the dating is based on Rabbinic tradition, which held that you die on the day of conception; and nine months on from April 25th, the date given  for Jesus’ crucifixion, is December 25th. Either way, there are no Scripture references nor enough historical evidence, to be exactly sure.

But exact dating is a side issue. The main point of course is not the date of his birth but the significance of it. Jesus Christ was not just a human baby, but God in the flesh (John 1:1, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6.)  Christian doctrines – incarnation, atonement, resurrection – are inextricably bound up with the belief that God was born, not the date of his birth.

And if Muslims are going to continue to make this objection, they need to be consistent. Last week a Muslim brought the “25th December” objection to me on his way to Mawlid – Muhammad’s birthday party. Only no-one knows exactly when Muhammad was born either. In fact the historical Muhammad is far more obscure than the historical Jesus. But celebrating  the birthday of an influential figure seems perfectly reasonable, whether it’s on the exact day or not. Quibbling over Muhammad’s birthday doesn’t prove Islam true or false, same with Jesus.  (Interestingly, celebrating Mawlid was condemned in a fatwa by Ibn Taimiyya (d.1328) – one of the forefathers of Wahabbism – as an innovation.)

And was Christmas derived from a pagan festival?  The celebration of the nativity may have been concurrent with pagan festivals, but there is not much evidence to suggest it was pagan in origin.  The Romans used to celebrate the feast of Saturnalia, which involved feasting , gifts and candles until 23rd December. But it was disapproved of by the early church. Gregory Nazianzen, Bishop of Constantinople c. 379 compared it unfavourably with celebrations of the Nativity.

‘…let us not strive to outdo each other in intemperance… Let us leave all these to … the …festivals of the Greeks… But we, the Object of whose adoration is the Word… seek it [‘luxury’]…in the Divine Law …’

The early church celebrated Jesus’ birth with fasting, perhaps as a reaction to the dissipation around them. It’s a challenging thought.

The other contention, according to this article, is that Christmas was initiated by Roman Emperor Aurelian. Aurelian did initiate games to the Sun deity,  Sol, held in October, but also celebrated the Winter Solstice as the ‘birthday’ of the sun, around December 25th. However this was a celebration of the sun the astronomical body, not the deity – an important distinction.  Christians didn’t mind the celebration of the Nativity co-inciding with a naturally -occuring event like the Solstice, and even drew parallels with Christ  the ‘Sun of Righteousness’ (Malachi 4:2). In fact what we know about early Christians is how they actively shunned any association with other gods and refused to sacrifice to them, even if it led to their violent deaths. How likely is it really that saints like Perpetua, who chose Christ and the lions rather than offer a pinch of incense to a foreign god, would have indulged in a remotely pagan festival? If anything, the evidence points to early Christians consciously setting themselves apart from pagan traditions.

As Christmas developed down the centuries, it undoubtedly picked up traditions from other origins – some of them probably pagan, like the ringing of bells (to warn off evil spirits.)  Instead of being shunned – though some Christians do still – these were infused with new meaning, in this case, making a joyful noise to the Lord. The same is true of candles, a borrowing from Hannukah, symbolising Christ the light or the world, evergreen trees Jesus’ indestructible life etc. But why not take something bad and make it something new and beautiful? Isn’t that what Jesus does with us when we are born again?

It’s worrying that the Christian symbolism behind our traditions is getting  lost as Christmas became more secular and commercial. I know of more Christians now who don’t celebrate Christmas because it  seems so far-removed from the Nativity story. But whether you do Christmas stockings or plum pudding or not, the point is to keep the main thing, the main thing: Christ the Saviour is born! And when Muslims – or Christians – attack Christmas for being pagan, it’s not attacking the main thing, but a straw man.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is [g]conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name [h]Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:2-23)

Happy Christmas everyone!

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Dawah team gives Christmas presents at Speaker’s Corner!

Dawah team gives Christmas presents at Speaker’s Corner!

Can Muslim celebrate Christmas? Should they be giving presents to Christians?

“O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three” – Cease! (it is) better for you! – Allah is only One Allah. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender.” Sura 4:171

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Questions for Muslims at Christmas

Jesus' Birthday Cake

Last week was officially our last Sunday at Speaker’s Corner in 2017. We wanted a carpet of snow, a beautiful sunset, perhaps a spontaeous rendering of Silent Night performed by a Muslim-Christian choir marking a seasonal cessation of hostilities, and a birthday cake for Jesus. God in His Sovereignty gave us torrential rain, and the choir remains a beautiful dream (next year, boys?) At least the cake came off: all our Muslim friends got a slice even if the candles refused to light and the icing looked  a bit Hallow’eeny.  Add a litany of technical failures and it all made for a wet, rather shambolic afternoon.

But none of the above could shake our joy at what we were there to celebrate – Jesus Christ, God himself come to earth as a vulnerable baby, all because He loves us and would go to any lengths to rescue us. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14.) The same divine, eternal Word that spoke with Abraham (Genesis 15) and Samuel (1 Samuel 3), the Word that will come back in judgement (Revelation 19:13) was Jesus in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes two thousand years ago. Wow.

So what is Allah exactly? Does Allah have a body, a spirit? No one knows. Allah is not a person. To say that he has personhood is heresy. He (and you can’ t really call Allah a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ or an ‘it’ – they are all inadequate) only reveals his/her/its will, not who he/she/it is. You cannot have a relationship with Allah: you exist to do ‘his’ will, pass ‘his’ test. Allah is your master and you are his servant. Compare this with Jesus, who, while we still hated him, became a servant for us – despite being “in very nature God” (Phillipians 2.)

Is Allah a moral being? His 99 names include “the loving” and “the merciful,” but the Qur’an also calls him “the best of deceivers” (S8:30) and says that  “all deception (al-makru) is Allah’s. (S13:42). In His sovereignty the God of the Bible uses Satan’s deceptions to fulfil His plans, but He Himself is not a deceiver – in fact Scripture says it is “impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). YHWH God is, in nature, love.

Does Allah love humans? He doesn’t care if you go to heaven or hell. Some people he has created for hell (S7:179) before they are even born:

“…[Allah] created for Paradise those who are fit for it while they were yet in their father’s loins and created for Hell those who are to go to hell. He created them for hell while they were yet in their father’s loins.”  (Sahih Muslim 33:6436)

Allah is not interested in rescuing or redeeming his creation. The Qur’an ignores the redemption metanarrative of the Old and New Testaments. But YHWH God makes a way for everyone to go to heaven through sending His Son to die on a Cross for us, as prophesied from the beginning in Genesis 3:15 and throughout the OT.  He doesn’t want anyone to perish but wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), while allowing us the  freedom to choose Him or not.

These are our Christmas questions for Muslims. Allah is not personal, but you are personal – why not worship a personal God? Allah’s love is an attribute, along with deception: neither define who Allah is. You know love and deception don’t mix- why not worship a God who is love?  Allah can’t and won’t rescue you – getting to him (but he’s not ‘him’ remember?) is obscure and complex. But you would rescue someone smaller and weaker than yourself, like a toddler on the road – why not worship a rescuing God? It all starts with that baby in Bethlehem.