By Mark Azzara
My Dear Friend,
We Christians, at least in theory, have been preparing for Christmas for the past few weeks during what’s known as Advent, a word that means arrival or “a coming into being, place or view.”
Advent also is the start of the word “adventure,” which basically refers to something that is bold, exciting, unusual or risky. Advent therefore seems to be the time when we participate in the coming into being of something that is bold, exciting, unusual and/or risky. Yes, that would be Jesus, all right.
Christmas 2015, however, certainly isn’t looking like much of an adventure. On the contrary, we are rolling out all the old, familiar, boring words we use at this time of year. We engage in all the old, familiar, boring practices, whether it’s buying gifts or hanging the same old ornaments on the tree. We hear the same old music blaring from in-store systems and radio stations, read the same old Bible verses, join in the familiar old torture of fighting the mobs, and head for the same old dinners and parties with all the old faces in all the old places.
What should we really be anticipating? The arrival of Jesus? Well, yes, in a way. Jesus, as an historical figure, came and went roughly 2,000 years ago. According to the same old sermons we hear at this time of year, however, he’s always coming into our hearts in a new way. But if we really believe that then we should be preparing ourselves for something bold, exciting, unusual and risky.
America’s Muslims are surrounded by the unavoidable external expressions of the joy, love and peace that Christmas inspires. I say “external” because they’re not reaping the benefits of those sentiments right now. Those old Christmas-y words ring hollow with them.
On Dec. 15 The New York Times published a story about how Muslim teens and 20-somethings are reacting to all the fear-mongering and mistrust in the wake of atrocities by ISIS and Boko Haram, then the Paris carnage, and now San Bernardino. The online summary of Kirk Semple’s story spells it out clearly: “Growing up amid the fight against terrorism, a generation is buffeted by prejudice and politics, and parents and counselors are growing concerned about the toll it is taking.”
And well they should. Imagine what would happen if everybody looked at you as if you were a terrorist. “You feel like the whole world is against you,” said one young Muslim woman in that story.
Jesus knows what it’s like to be an American Muslim. He was grossly misunderstood, painted as a heretic by those of the dominant religion, feared as someone whose words would trigger the terrifying wrath of the enemy, murdered as a scapegoat, laughed at when he was crucified, and abandoned even by his closest friends.
I wonder, now a bit frightened, whether some of the Muslims who are being demonized in this so-called Christian nation might soon begin to believe the lies, make the leap into identifying as terrorists, and then start acting like it. It would certainly prove the truth of Hosea 8:7. Having sown the wind, we shall reap the whirlwind.
Polls suggest that Americans are increasingly fearful about the dangers of being gunned down or blown up. But three years ago, after Adam Lanza murdered more than two dozen helpless children and adults at Sandy Hook School (including my friend’s daughter) we didn’t start worrying about every guy on the street because Lanza couldn’t be pigeon-holed into a specific group. He was just one solitary nutcase whose mental and emotional gears were stripped.
It’s different with Muslims. Many Americans fear them because Muslims are an identifiable group. As a result, Muslims are starting to feel “poor” in this country. They are starting to feel “homeless,” as if the nation where many of them were born and raised is suddenly a strange, foreboding place because non-Muslims are kicking them out of the house we share and isolating them.
The bigoted loudmouths who vocally accost American Muslims are the real terrorists because they’re terrorizing Muslims and possibly planting the seeds of terrorism in others.
The solution is pretty simple. It’s called Christmas. We must enter into the adventure of Christmas by taking the bold, exciting, unusual, risky step of reassuring our Muslim friends that they are not alone, they are not strangers, that we do not reject them, and that we will defend them against those who treat them that way. We must do this if they are to have some experience of the love, joy and peace that Christmas represents.
And while we’re at it, let’s do the same for anyone of any religious, cultural, ethnic or economic background who’s suffering in the same way, including the poor, the homeless and the “stupid.”
Defending Muslims doesn’t mean accepting their beliefs. Jesus didn’t embrace pagan beliefs when he ministered to the Samaritan woman at the well, granted the request of the Samaritan woman begging for her child’s healing, or did the same for the Roman centurion seeking healing for his servant. He loved them and let that be his entire message.
Christmas isn’t usually portrayed as a time of stark choice but we face one in 2015. We can celebrate Christmas in the same old way, for what it means to us for a few weeks every year, and thus turn our backs on those who are in need, which will teach them that this is what the Christian faith is about. Or we can embrace Christmas as the glorious adventure God meant it to be every day – the daily arrival of Christ in the world. It’s only via the latter that Jesus truly comes into being, place or view and becomes real to us as well as to others.
All God’s blessings – Mark
Mark Azzara spent 45 years in print journalism, most of them with the Waterbury Republican in Connecticut, where he was a features writer with a special focus on religion at the time of his retirement. He also worked for newspapers in New Haven and Danbury, Conn. At the latter paper, while sports editor, he won a national first-place writing award on college baseball. Azzara also has served as the only admissions recruiter for a small Catholic college in Connecticut and wrote a self-published book on spirituality, “And So Are You.” He is active in his church and facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal State Los Angeles. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Connecticut.