We are experiencing Advent….the preparation for the coming of Jesus. We hear from John the Baptist during the time when the Roman empire was causing great unrest, torture, killing, and brutality to the people who lived throughout the region but especially in the Galilee. The people were experiencing an occupation that was very cruel and many of the religious thinkers of the day were predicting an end to the world or a messiah that would come and lead an army to vanquish the Romans. Their expectations were many and varied.
But what happened was the most unexpected event that no one was predicting.
What happened was a man by the name of Jesus. Born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth in the Galilee, a person raised in the understanding of what it meant to belong to a tribe, it just so happened his tribe was Jewish. He was aware of the teaching of what we now call The Old Testament. He was aware of the danger of speaking out against the Roman occupation. Every breath he had taken, every step he took, every conversation he had, every person he met, was somehow affected by the cruelty of the Roman occupation. People lived in fear and yet hoped for a future without fear. They were hungry for the words of John the Baptist. And John was aware that a new moment in time was coming. He probably knew Jesus. He had probably heard him. And they were probably friends who disagreed on matters of religion and politics. Jesus would say, “You have heard it said by men of old but I say to you”. And he spoke with authority.
John recognized that authority and was preparing people for the ministry of Jesus. So much happened in the brief ministry of Jesus. No more than 3 years and maybe even less.
One of the most important teachings Jesus made was to equate the love of God, neighbor, and self that had never before been taught. He taught us the Great Commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment and the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
We have heard this so many times over the years; we fail to recognize it as a revolutionary teaching in the 1st century and remain revolutionary today.
At the time of Jesus, love your neighbor means that you love your neighbor within your tribe within your own family…..yet Jesus was revolutionary in teaching that to love your neighbor you were to love your enemies and to give special attention to people who were excluded such as Samaritans and all people could share and know the love of God as well as sinners and unbelievers.
What was so revolutionary about the Commandments to love God, neighbor and self was that Christianity left its tribal heritage in Jerusalem. Under the leadership of the Apostle Paul Christianity became a worldwide religion that has incorporated many cultures, languages, and people of many colors. In fact, every child sees the baby Jesus as a reflection of their own part of humanity. At the Roman Catholic Basilica in Nazareth, Jesus and Mary are artistically celebrated as persons of color whether in India, Africa, Europe, Asia, South America and that is how it should be. The word becoming flesh in the person of Jesus is about all of humanity….at all times and in all places. One of my favorite places to visit in Jerusalem is the Church of the Paternoster where the Lord’s Prayer is on the wall in over a hundred languages. Proof of the way the Spirit has moved in the lives of millions of people over the centuries.
I would like to submit another way as to how the Spirit is moving in our lives today. Sixty-nine years ago today the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations produced a document that needs to be honored by all people throughout the world. But especially by Christians as they reflect the Commandments of Jesus. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, I will read from its preamble.
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and unalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscious of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
Whereas the peoples of United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress in better standards of life in larger freedom.
Now therefore, the General Assembly, proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples in all nations, to the end that every individual and every organs of society, keeping this declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observant, both among people of member states themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”
Following this preamble, there are 30 articles that spell out the meaning of human rights. In your spare time you may wish to read it.
All of us know this past week the disruption that is taking place regarding Jerusalem. I received a letter that I wish to speak to you about as part of human rights regarding Palestinians and especially those who live in East Jerusalem.
Subject of the letter “Still occupied in East Jerusalem”.
The following letter is someone who works for an Israeli peace organization called B’Tselem. He as a Palestinian is employed for purposes of Jewish human rights organization issues.
“My name is Kareem Jubran. I am a Palestinian in East Jerusalem. On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump “recognized” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Yet this announcement does not change the fact that East Jerusalem is occupied territory, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are deprived of political rights. We must recognize this reality and work relentlessly to change it.”
He goes on further to say:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”, states The Human Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 and marked every year on December 10th. Yet, since annexing East Jerusalem unlawfully in 1967, Israel has made it unequivocally clear that Palestinians are unwanted in the city and repeatedly demonstrated how little it values our lives. On a routine basis, Israel authorities wrongfully detain, wound, and even kill us, they deny us permits to build our homes, schools and roads and they bar us from living with our love ones who are not residents of Israel. After more than 50 years of deliberate underdevelopment, the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem suffer from overcrowding, poverty and substandard infrastructure.” End of letter.
Human rights violations occur in every country throughout the world including our own country. It is our task as Christians throughout the world to challenge these violations and to adhere to the teachings of Jesus especially within the great commandment of love of God, Neighbor and Self. All three understandings of love becomes a focus for spirituality that reflects love to a world that often gives in to evil. We often do not advocate for our own rights much less the rights of others. Witness the explosion of sexual harassment and how women are now dismantling a male dominance over women. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 was a direct response out of the evils of World War II and the Holocaust and the ways in which we mistreat each other. We know there is a way that points us in a direction that leads to healing and hope. That way has been tried and tested and proven by countless pilgrims in their own journey of life in relationship to Jesus Christ. It is a way that leads us to accept and love God, our neighbor and ourselves. It opens doors into relationships, issues of human rights, new learning’s and brings into focus the future. That way is here and now and coming to us always as the future breaks into our lives. God is with us. Oh come, oh come Emanuel.