Perhaps you have heard of “Garbage City” in Cairo, Egypt. It is a community of Coptic Christians, the “Zabbaleen,” who for generations have been the trash collectors of Cairo. Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, recently wrote of Garbage City in his pre-Christmas article, “Christmas Amidst the Rubbish.”
“Each day,” he wrote, “the fathers and their sons go out into the city and collect the garbage in beat-up pickup trucks or donkey-drawn carts. They bring it back to their community, where the women meticulously sort through all of it.” They recycle as much as 80 percent of the garbage, selling what they can, while allowing poor families to look for food to eat.
If you have seen one of the recent television documentaries on the Zabbaleen of Garbage City, you will know that their town truly is, as Lowry describes, “a town built atop an active landfill….It’s as if, as someone has mused, Cairo had been picked up by one end and shook so that all the rubbish fell on the homes of the Zabbaleen. They live among their livelihood, the waste that no one else wants and that few would dare touch.”
“Few Would Dare Touch”
Lowry’s article became my own personal backdrop for celebrating Christmas this year, one that can serve at any time as we now count the days since Christmas. It adds a dimension to Christmas that we may not always remember, given the romanticizing of nearly everything about Christmas, from stable to shepherds to starry night.
It may even be a helpful exercise (and we would probably shudder) to think of spending some time in rodents-ridden, flies-swarming Garbage City. While likely overwhelming, it would at least be a very small measure of how it was for our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, accustomed to the accoutrements of heaven, to agree to carry out the plan developed in eternity to immerse Himself into our sins-ridden, devils-swarming world for 33 years. This was wasteland that no other than a loving God would even have wanted, much less touched so intimately. And His Son would pay for this stay in our garbage city with a death we cannot even imagine.
Christmas was a rugged affair, its true nature touched upon by the line in the Christmas carol, “Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding?” It was the most extreme of extreme measures, “God invading our planet” (as a pastor wrote to me before Christmas) to subject himself to a world disgustingly foreign to His nature, that we might have new life.
New Life in Garbage City
The most remarkable thing about the Zabbaleen of Cairo is their boldly Christian community. Historically they have been oppressed and repressed, and life hasn’t gotten any easier of late. They worship in a cave, they suffer from government interference, and they recently were set upon by deadly Muslim gangs. They may face, as Lowry states, “the same slow-motion, largely ignored extirpation as their Christian brethren in Iraq.”
But their new life in Christ continues. One garbage collector spoke of the Zabbaleens’ life together in a recent video: “We are one community, and we all know and love each other.” Theirs is the dignity of a community of simple Christian people against a trash-strewn backdrop—and a way for us to think of our new life as a result of God’s amazing grace in Christ, “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:6–7).
Life “from Below”
To quote Rich Lowry one more time, with reference to the time that German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent in Harlem in 1930, it was here, Lowry writes, “among a shunned but vibrant Christian community” that Bonhoeffer began to see things “from below.” It is an important vantage point for Christians. Lowry notes, “There is no other vantage point from Garbage City.”
We will do well to view Christmas similarly, “from below,” but also from above. A resident of Cairo’s Garbage City (for whose residents we should regularly pray) described well his Christian life (and ours) in response to a question from the Voice of America about the future of Garbage City: “We are the garbage collectors, but we live on a mountain of faith.”
Ray Hartwig (12/26/2011)
May God grant you and yours a wonderful celebration of our Savior’s birth. Merry Christmas to one and all!
There is no more profound proclamation of the message of Christmas, no more poignant explanation of “the reason for the season” than this passage from the letter to the Hebrews. Here is my rendering of Hebrews 2:14-18:
14) Since therefore the children have shared and do share blood and flesh, He Himself in like manner assumed a share in them [flesh and blood] so that through death he might render impotent him who has the power of death, namely the devil.
15) And set free those who by fear of death through all their lives were held in bondage.
16) For surely it was not angels He takes hold of to help, but He helps Abraham’s descendents [i.e., all who believe in Christ – see Galatians 3:7].
17) For this reason He was obligated to become like His brothers in every way so that he might become a merciful and faithful High Priest toward God, for the purpose of making atonement [propitiation] for the sins of the people;
18) For in that He Himself suffered being tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.
The children share in blood and flesh. That’s who we are, real people, flesh and blood creatures of God. In the same way, our Lord Himself, in the womb of Mary, also assumed His share in flesh and blood. There can be no greater wonder than this!
The LORD and Creator of all the universe becomes a child of flesh and blood, yet always remains who He is: Lord of all. God in the flesh – the incarnation, we call it, the “enfleshment,” our hymn expresses it: “These are the signs that you shall mark, the swaddling clothes, the manger dark: there you shall find the Infant laid by whom the heavens and earth were made” (Lutheran Service Book 358, st. 5).
Why? Why does God take a share in flesh and blood? The Creator becomes a creature? Here is the heart of the matter, my beloved brothers and sisters. This is what we teach and preach this season. The New International Version has it: “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death” (2:14). Literally it means, as I have it above, “that through death He might render impotent” the devil, who holds “the power of death.”
I like that. This is good news! The devil looks powerful. He acts powerful. He seeks to destroy, but he is IMPOTENT! He has been stripped of His power! He cannot tear us away from our Lord when we claim Christ’s incarnation for us, Christ’s death on the cross that destroyed his power.
For Christ Himself has set us free. In Christ the Son of God became like us in every way. We suffer. He suffered. We are tempted. He was tempted, “yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).
More than that, He was a faithful High Priest, offering Himself as the sacrifice, the atonement for our sins. His death made satisfaction for our sins. That means He received the full measure of punishment for our sins. His death now sets us free because there is no more sin that needs punishment. It was all done in Him. Now, because He suffered, He is able to help us when we suffer, when we are tested by temptation.
Here is the wonderful message of Christmas!
At the end of the year the world often becomes retrospective about the good, the bad and the ugly of the previous year. Depending on what commentators emphasize, they become hopeful or gloomy about our prospects. But here is the good news that transcends all of that, the good news of Christmas we sing and share, teach and preach: God Himself has come to be with us in our difficulty! God Himself has become a human being of flesh and blood.
God Himself has taken His share in human suffering in Christ, born for us. God Himself has come to set us free from death and atoned for our sin. God Himself gives life! Now there’s a message just begging to be proclaimed! May God bless each of us in the proclaiming!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
Christmas is almost here, but allow me just a little Advent, still. One of my favorite hymns for Advent shows us there is so much more to come! Check out LSB 348, “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” (Lutheran Service Book,#348, text and tune, public domain).
The King shall come when morning dawns And light triumphant breaks,
When beauty guilds the eastern hills And life to joy awakes. (LSB 348, st. 1)
Christmas is coming! How could anyone forget? Yet our anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s birth (special services, special family events, special gifts, etc.) is also but a pale reflection of the celebration to come.
Not as of old a little child, To bear and fight and die,
But crowned with glory like the sun That lights the morning sky. (st. 2)
Christ came in deepest humility. He had to. That’s because we, in our sin, were at “rock bottom.” We couldn’t fall any further than death, even eternal death by sin. So Christ came to humble Himself and become “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8). But now God has “highly exalted Him, and given Him the name which is above every name…” (Philippians 2:9). And He will come again, “crowned with glory like the sun…”
Oh, brighter than the rising morn When Christ, victorious rose
And left the lonesome place of death Despite the rage of foes. (st. 3)
If the stable in which Christ was born speaks of His humility for us, and the manger in which He was laid looks ahead to His cross, then the glorious angels singing, “Glory to God in the Highest…” (Luke 2:14) also point ahead to His resurrection triumph on Easter morning. But even the glory of Easter is only but a down payment on the glory to come when Christ comes again. Christ is “the first fruits” of those raised from death, but “at His coming all those who belong to Christ” shall be raised (1 Corinthians 15:23). Do you see how the best is yet to come?
Oh, brighter than that glorious morn Shall dawn upon our race
The day when Christ in splendor comes And we shall see His face. (st. 4)
John tells us, “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is.” (1 John 3:2b). Oh, we have been given so much already, it is true, but do you see how there is so much more to come? I know that at times in the church we have to “slog it out,” that serving the Lord Jesus as a pastor or teacher or DCE or deaconess or baptized believer in your vocation is never easy. Jesus didn’t promise it would be. In face, He makes it clear that it can be difficult, but He does promise it will be worth it and that He will never abandon us. In the words of the Gospel, when things look their worst, He tells us to “look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
The King shall come when morning dawns And light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray: Come quickly, King of Kings! (st. 5)
Christmas is coming, yes it is! May your celebrations point you and the people you love to the wonderful gift of God in Christ born for us! And this gift is given, is truly given, over and over again, when we hear His Word of peace and receive again His body and blood, trusting His promise. In the midst of our death, He gives His life, makes us alive forever. Still, there’s so much more to come, isn’t there? We will see Jesus, coming again! Even so, come quickly, King of Kings!
May God’s Spirit fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you and yours receive a wonderful celebration of our Savior’s birth! Merry Christmas to all!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
An initial discussion was held on 15-16 December 2011 between representatives of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) and North American Lutheran Church (NALC). The meeting was held at the invitation of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. The NALC had also committed itself in its formal ecumenical statement to meetings with the LCMS.
The NALC is a newly formed Lutheran church body committed to biblical and confessional Lutheranism with over 300 congregations and over 100,000 baptized members. It was organized in August 2010 in Columbus, Ohio.
The NALC was represented by Bishop John Bradosky and Emeritus Bishop Paull Spring, the Rev. Dr. James Nestingen (retired seminary professor), the Rev. David Wendel (NALC ministry coordinator), and the Rev. Mark Chavez (NALC general secretary). President Matthew Harrison, the Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (assistant for Church Relations), the Rev. John Pless (professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.), and the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer and the Rev. Larry Vogel from the Commission on Theology and Church Relations were the LCMS representatives. President Rev. Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church–Canada attended as a formal observer.
Among his comments on the meeting, Bishop Bradosky said, “I am deeply grateful for the gracious hospitality of President Harrison and his competent staff. Our dialogue transcended all of our hopes and expectations. The level of openness, honesty and trust evident in our conversations was commensurate with those whose relationship had spanned years. That experience may be based on the fact that our common commitment to biblical authority and theological integrity has spanned many years to our formal meeting.”
President Harrison noted, in part: “The NALC fervently desires to take the Scriptures and the Lutheran confession seriously. These men are creedal Christians who share our own convictions on fundamental issues of life and sexuality. We do have real differences and they will not be easily overcome. But the outcome is the Lord’s.”
Discussion of theological and ecumenical issues facing each church took up much of the meeting time. Areas of cooperative work between the church bodies also were considered.
The group heard presentations by Barb Below from the President’s office on LCMS restructuring. The Rev. John Fale of the International Missions office of the LCMS reported on the Synod’s work of mercy.
The meetings between the churches will continue, with the next meeting planned for May 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. Plans for future meetings include time to address matters of difference and agreement between the churches.
Posted Dec. 16, 2011
On 15 – 16 December 2011, representatives from The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) held discussions in Saint Louis, MO, at the LCMS International Center. NALC Participants included Bishop John Bradosky, Dr. James Nestingen, Bishop Emeritus Paull Spring, Rev. Dave Wendel (Chair of Ecumenical Relationships Committee). LCMS participants included President Matthew Harrison, Vice-President Herb Mueller, Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations, Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Executive Director of the CTCR, Rev. Larry Vogel, CTCR Staff, and Rev. John Pless, Professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, President of the Lutheran Church Canada (LCC) attended the LCMS-NALC discussions as an observer.
The NALC was constituted on August 27, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio, at a Convocation organized by the church reform movement Lutheran CORE. One year earlier, a similar gathering of Lutheran CORE had directed its leadership to develop new organizational alternatives for faithful Lutheran Christians in North America. In response to numerous requests from congregations for the creation of a new Lutheran church body, Lutheran CORE developed A Vision and Plan for the North American Lutheran Church and Lutheran CORE, published in February 2010. The NALC largely consists of congregations that broke away from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) primarily over the position the ELCA took regarding human sexuality. NALC consists of approximately 250 congregations.
The meeting between the LCMS and the NALC began with a tour of the CHI Museum at the International Center, followed by a brief discussion of the NALC’s history, and an update on the LCMS restructuring. The nature of ecumenical relations was discussed as well as issues affecting both church bodies. Future discussions are planned between the LCMS and NALC.
— Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations