Race Relations and Christmas?
In the wake of ongoing race riots and with the approach of Christmas, the Church should ask, “Do the two have any relation to each other?”  Not, “Did the one cause the other?”  But, rather, “Does the one give us any answer to the other?”  To which we should assuredly answer, “Yes!”  What Christmas is truly about is the reconciliation of warring factions.  It is all about God making peace with those at war with Him through the incarnation of His Son.  At the heart of that peace is the cross (see Ephesians 2:13-16) and essential to that cross is the incarnation – God becoming man while remaining God in order to reconcile men to God (see Hebrews 2:14-18).

John 1:14 is one of the most succinct and familiar descriptions of the incarnation – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  While that verse is first and foremost descriptive, if we recognize the reconciling pattern of God in it, we see that it also is prescriptive.  It prescribes to us a pattern for pursuing reconciliation and harmony on this earth.

1. God became (man) while remaining (God) – Whatever we undertake, we do so while remaining first and foremost God’s children and Christ’s disciples.  We are salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16).  We are saints (holy ones).  This is who and what we are.  When we approach race relations (or anything else) we do so remaining salt and light, children and disciples.  And, at the same time, we must become who we would reach.  We must enter into the mindset and emotional state of those we would love and be reconciled to.  White Christians must ask, “How would I feel if I were a black Christian?  If I had teenage sons who would walk these streets?  If I lived in a nation with a historic pattern of denying justice to people with my shade of skin?  What would my experience be?”  Black Christians must ask, “What comes to the mind of a white Christian when he hears about the history of slavery and segregation or the ongoing problems of racial discrimination today?  Does he even recognize the forms it takes today?  Does she understand how it feels?  Would I if I were in their position?”  We need to ask these types of questions as Christians in order to enter more fully into the world of those with whom we would be reconciled.  We are first and foremost Christians, but we must also become more like those whom we would love.

2. God dwelt among us – This is the second step in this pattern’s progression.  We only can ‘become’ so far without actually living and dwelling among those whom we would love and with whom we would be reconciled.  What a difference it would have made had Christ become man but refused to come to earth!  White and black – and every other shade of skin and form of ethnicity – must dwell together.  If we are to make any serious and substantial headway, we must desegregate our churches and live in each other’s neighborhoods, and sit at each other’s tables, and read each other’s literature, and listen to each other’s music and stories.  We must actually enter into and share in one another’s lives and experiences.  Only then will we truly and deeply be able to empathize with one another.  Only then will we gain a greater measure of credibility with each other.  This is the pattern Christ gave to us and it is the pattern we must follow (see Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; 1 John 2:6).

3. God took the initiative – He became and He dwelt.  He did not wait for us to come to Him.  If He had, He would still be waiting and we’d still be His enemies.  Someone must take the first step in reconciliation.  That impetus falls upon the Christian.  If you are Christ’s, you should not be waiting for someone else to initiate that effort with you; it is your responsibility to take the initial steps toward reconciliation (see Matthew 5:23-24; 7:5; Ephesians 4:32-5:2).  Begin to read the literature, begin to understand the other side, visit the other church, move into the other neighborhood, offer the invitation to dinner at your house, offer the listening ear, offer the apology, pray.

4. God showed grace and truth – What the disciples saw when they looked upon the incarnate Christ was “glory … full of grace and truth.”  They saw the glory of God shining through Christ and they saw that glory primarily taking the form of grace and truth.  When the world looks upon the church, these same attributes should stand out.  Not everyone will have eyes to see – they certainly didn’t when Jesus walked the earth – yet what we display must be reflective of the grace and truth-filled glory of God.  A gracious spirit – not pride, argumentativeness, defensiveness, unforgiveness, and bitterness – must mark us.  Honesty and transparency (marks of interpersonal truth) – not denial, fear, minimization, or blame-shifting – must define us.  The theme of salvation and reconciliation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone must pervade our life and message, because at the heart of our life and its message is the truth that God graciously reconciled us to Himself on the basis of Christ’s merit.  This truth should shape the way we think, feel, speak, and act.  This grace and truth (in Christ) is what makes us distinctively Christian.  If we lose sight of that, we have lost all sight.  Consequently, we cannot (as the Church of Christ) pursue racial reconciliation without practicing and proclaiming the Gospel.  We cannot think that a great victory has been won if men and women of different skin colors have been reconciled to each other while remaining alienated from their Maker.

The truth is that everything is about God – including racial reconciliation – and the hope is that the same grace which reconciled us to God will also prevail in reconciling us to each other.  But, if we are to participate in the pursuit of this interpersonal reconciliation, we must follow the Christmas pattern of God in Christ and take the initiative in becoming like and dwelling among those with whom we would be reconciled, expressing His grace and truth in loving sincerity.
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