Christmas and the Book of Job

by Dan Fefferman
DFeff@aol.com
Prince George's County Maryland Family Church
December 19, 1999

Scripture readings:

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
(Luke 2:4-14)

Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.
(Job 3:23-26)

Iíve been wanting to preach on the Book of Job for several months now, and when I was called to preach on the Sunday before Christmas, I was afraid I would come off more like the Grinch than a spreader of Holiday cheer. I come from a Jewish family, but not a very religious one. So we got to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. But I donít think Iíve ever heard a Hanukkah sermon in the UC, except for the kids. I think thatís a pity, because Hanukkah's a wonderful way to teach about Godís providence. You get to light candles and hear the story of how the Temple was restored and rededicated to God about 200 years BC. When I first joined the Unification Church, we didnít celebrate Christmas either. We didnít have a tree in the center, didnít exchange gifts; we just went out witnessing. Since about 1974, we started to celebrate Christmas in the UC.

First letís talk a about Christmas, then the Book of Job. And then Iíll try to offer some thoughts about how the two relate to each other. What does Christmas mean to you? (presents, joy, family, True Love, giving, forgiving) I think for me, Christmas, more than anything means a return to hope and innocence. Itís the day that we celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Itís a time of wonder, a time of grace, when as children, everything we ever wanted magically appears under the tree, and our parents encourage us to play and take delight in the gifts we have been given. What a wonderful holiday!

And we in the United States have built a whole culture, and a substantial part of our economy, around this wonder. I know itís fashionable to decry the commercialization of Christmas. And it CAN get out of hand with its spending frenzy, advertising, materialism, consumerism, and shopping madness. But itís also a testimony that in some ways our culture maintains a healthy dose of innocence and optimism.

And, of course, itís also symbolic of the rebirth of light at the darkest time of the year. To quote Isaiah 60, which Christians traditionally view as prophetic of Jesusí coming: 

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried in arms. Then you will see and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth of the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. (Isaiah 60:1-5)

Rev. Moon teaches that Godís hope for mankind was renewed for the first time when Jesus was born as the Second Adam. So in that sense, Christmas is a time of hope even for God. Yet there is also a serious side to Christmas. Rev. Moon asks,

Will fruitcake and ice cream make a merry Christmas? Christmas is truly the celebration of the birth of God's son, but without knowing God's purpose for sending him there cannot truly be a celebration of ChristmasÖ After hearing me, "Merry Christmas" becomes "Concerned Christmas." The true content of Christmas is the amount of love you gave during the year. That is far more dazzling than any amount of decorations.
(The True Meaning of Christmas, December 25, 1979)

Why does Rev. Moon emphasize the serious side of Christmas? It is because he is not only in touch with the hope of Christmas, but also the ultimate outcome of the story that begins with the nativity. In Unificationism, Jesus came to renew the original ideal given at the time of the creation of man and woman in the Garden of Eden. He was not only to teach and exemplify true love as an individual. God intended for him to have a ideal family, to marry and with his wife establish the model of True Parents. And on that foundation, with Jesusí family at the center, the whole of society and the entire world could be restored. In this way the Kingdom of God would exist on Earth as well as in Heaven.

Seen from this perspective, Jesusí crucifixion was a tragedy. It frustrated the will of God and prolonged the realization of his providence for 2,000 years. When we celebrate Christmas, we need to keep this sober fact in mind.

Itís wonderful to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus. But itís easy to fulfill our responsibility to the Baby Jesus. Baby Jesus doesnít speak. We need to remember, that the Baby Jesus became the adult Jesus. And when he did, he asked us to do hard things, like;

Listen to more of Rev. Moonís words about Christmas:

Christmas Day is the perfect day for repentance, for checking how much you have truly lived as Jesus' representative and loved the world as he did. We are the people inheriting the true tradition of Christmas which God conceived in His heart. The true meaning of Christmas is the tradition of the true love of God.
(The True Meaning of Christmas, Dec. 25, 1979)

When we reflect on this serious side of Jesusí life, then we can see that perhaps the Book of Job is not an inappropriate text to deal with when considering the true meaning of Christmas. Let me ask you, what does the Book of Job mean to you? (Faith, suffering, injustice, the problem of evil).

The Book of Job challenges me. It puts me in touch with the fact that good people suffer, whether they be called Job, Jesus, Rev. Moon, or you and I. It teaches me that God makes the rain to fall on the righteous as well as the evildoer, and that we cannot always be certain that if we do well, we will be blessed. It makes me wonder how a good God could allow so much evil in this world He created.

These days, when I think of Rev. Moon, I think more of the Book of Job than I do of the Gospels. Job was a righteous man, and yet he suffered. Like Rev. Moon he suffered by seeing his financial foundation undermined. Like Rev. Moon, he suffered by seeing his own children die before their parents. Like Rev. Moon, he suffered by having his so-called friends second-guess him and tell him that he was being punished by God for his sins. So when we read the Book of Job, we can understand more deeply the heart of Jesus and Rev. Moon.

Jesus, too, was a righteous man, and yet, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he asked God to remove that bitter cup, he too was required to suffer. And in a sense, even God has gone the way of Job, losing all that He created, forfeiting His position as ruler, and losing His beloved children as well, because of manís alienation through the Fall. 

Actually I love the Book of Job probably more than any other book in the Bible. But I donít like the way most preachers deal with Job. Most preachers use it just to show that we should be unshakable in our faith in God, as the say that Job was. They like quote passages like Job 1:21. Right after all of Jobís earthly goods were destroyed and all of his children died. There, Job says:

Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD giveth and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)

Or they tell the story from Job chapter 2, when Job is suffering in his flesh, and his wife says:

Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" Job replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not evil? (Job 2:9-10)

The trouble with these preachers is that never get past the first two chapters. They forget to tell you, or maybe they just don't know, that eventually the agony and injustice did get to Job. Listen to what Chapter 3 says:

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day he was born. (Job 3:1)

"What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil." (Job 3:25-26)

Or Chapter 6:

ĎIf only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales! It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas -- no wonder my words have been impetuous. The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God's terrors are marshaled against me.í (Job 6:2-4)

Or Chapter 7:

ĎTherefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.í (Job 7:11)

Chapter 9:

ĎHe destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent.í (Job 9:22-23)

Chapter 10:

ĎI loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked? (Job 10:1-3)

Chapter 13:

ĎOnly grant me these two things, O God, and then I will not hide from you: Withdraw your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with your terrors. Then summon me and I will answer, or let me speak, and you reply. How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin. Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?í (Job 13:20-24)

Had enough? I suppose that many of us would answer that it was not God who was Jobís enemy, but Satan. Or perhaps we would agree with Jobís friends and say that Jobís suffering must have resulted from some sin the Job or his ancestors had committed. Or perhaps weíd say that Jobís children died and Job suffered as a condition of indemnity for a greater purpose. The interesting thing is, though, that the author of the Book of Job doesnít see it that way. When God finally gives His own answer to Job, He takes full responsibility for the world with all its violence. He asks, not without a note of sarcasm:

ĎWhere were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone -- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?í (Job 38:4-7)

ĎDoes the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread his wings toward the south? Does the eagle soar at your command and build his nest on high? He dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is his stronghold. From there he seeks out his food; his eyes detect it from afar. His young ones feast on blood, and where the slain are, there is he.í (Job 39:26-30)

ĎWould you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God's, and can your voice thunder like his? Ö "Behold behemoth, which I made along with youÖ What strength he has in his loins, what power in the muscles of his belly! His tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are close-knit. His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like rods of iron. He ranks first among the works of God.í (Job 40:8-9,15-19)

(And of the beast Leviathan) ĎAny hope of subduing him is false; the mere sight of him is overpowering. No one is fierce enough to rouse him. Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.í (Job 41:9-11)

The Book of Job leaves me gasping in awe. Dozens of books have been written about it from every imaginable perspective. I think what appeals to me most about it is that it accurately reflects manís existential situation. In the end, we are created beings, and our existence, as well as our salvation, is contingent on Godís grace. Yet, can we be sure that God will protect us? Jobís own words sum it up.

"Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him." (Job 13:15)

In times of spiritual difficulty, we need hope. That is why we need the spirit of Christmas. But in times of spiritual prosperity we also need to reminded that all glory is fleeting. We need to face the fact that life is not all presents and decorations. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. That is why we need the Book of Job.

Look at what happened to Jesus. Look at what happened to Rev. Moonís son Young Jin just a couple of months ago, falling to his death from a hotel balcony. Or Rev. Moonís other son Heung Jin, who died in a car accident 15 years ago almost to this very day. They were innocent, and yet they suffered. And think of Rev. Moon himself, who like Job, lost these sons of his and who even surpassed Job in offering everything to God. But do you think Rev. Moon reached this point of offering without agony? Donít you think there was also a dark night of the soul for him as well, when just a short time after proclaiming the end of indemnity, his son was taken from him?

We need to be put in touch with the original innocence that Christmas evokes so well. And we also need a healthy dose of the hard realities that the Book of Job captures. Hope and reality: Christmas and the Book of Job. Letís keep both polarities in our hearts and minds as we approach the New Millennium. As the Muslims say, "Praise Allah, but remember to tie your camel the fence."

Rev. Moon tells us that Christmas is a good time to repent and check ourselves, to see if we are living up to that standard of love that Jesus taught and practiced. So Iíd like to encourage each and every one of us, starting with myself, to ask:

In closing, let me read one more quote from Rev. Moonís talk on the True Meaning of Christmas:

We are gathered to celebrate the true Christmas because we know God and His purpose; we know Jesus' purpose and intention for coming to this world. And in addition we are handpicked by God to vindicate Jesus and liberate the heart of God by accomplishing what Jesus left undone. If we say Merry Christmas with that mind then God and Jesus would respond thousands of times, "Merry, merry, merry Christmas."
(The True Meaning of Christmas, December 25, 1979)