General CBF

Interfaith Dialogue at Christmas

By Rick Sample 

sample-rick-and-lita

CBF field personnel Rick and Lita Sample.

What’s the easiest way to tell Muslims that Jesus is the Son of God and to tell Jews that Jesus is the Messiah?

This is not exactly an easy message to convey. At an Interfaith Dialogue gathering near San Francisco earlier in this month of December, I was invited to give a presentation about Christmas. Rather than explain symbols like candy canes, wreaths, or Christmas trees, I decided to present a Protestant Christology on the Incarnation of Christ. Framing my presentation as “This is what Protestants believe about Christmas”, I was able to give a detailed explanation of the Trinity, with emphasis on God the Son.

“The Word became flesh”…God became human in the form of the baby Jesus. During previous dialogue meetings there were discussions and disputes presented by Muslim or Jewish participants about whether Jesus was indeed God, whether Mary was a virgin, and whether Jesus was the Messiah. I asked them whether they thought Jesus ever claimed to be God, then I quoted the words of Jesus in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” I articulated the Christian doctrine that Jesus is fully human and fully divine.

The second part of my presentation went through the two birth narratives in Matthew and Luke. Matthew’s narrative focuses on Joseph, while Luke’s narrative focuses on Mary.

In different accounts, Matthew and Luke assert that Mary was a virgin and Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecies. Hearing details about wise men and shepherds, angels and Herod, Elizabeth, Simeon, and Anna were fascinating to my audience. Explaining why committed Christians look deeper than American cultural trappings to find the “true meaning of Christmas” intrigued my Jewish and Muslim listeners.

Sharing the “why” Jesus came led me to discuss the crucifixion and resurrection; so – every year while we celebrate Christmas, we know Easter is coming! Central to Christianity is the belief Jesus is the Son of God, born of the virgin Mary, and that he is Immanuel – God with us.

Feedback was very positive. The dialogue that followed became a serious discussion about matters of faith in Jesus as Messiah and as the Son of God.

A young Jewish woman told me that she had never heard the Trinity explained and I made it sound like perfect sense. A Muslim man spoke with me privately afterward to ask more questions. Interfaith Dialogue is a meaningful way to cultivate Beloved Community among adherents of the three Abrahamic religions.

Our dialogue group meets monthly in Beloved Community, and because of this sense of cooperation and spirit of sharing together, my opportunity to speak about Christmas was a time for faith sharing among internationals and Americans alike. This evening has been a highlight of my Christmas season this year. Merry Christmas!

Rick Sample is a CBF field personnel serving alongside his wife, Lita, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more about and support their ministry at www.cbf.net/sample. Their presence is also funded by the CBF Offering for Global Missions. Learn more about the Offering at www.cbf.net/OGM

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