What we in the Institute of Advanced Theology call our Advent Series of lectures is usually completed prior to end of the Advent season, but I am glad that we keep our reference to the most hopeful time of the Christian calendar. This year, in discussing "Religions and Politics," we encountered deep challenges in understanding the ways that traditions of faith structure the authority of government, and how conflicts among these traditions emerge.
Recent events show us that an analysis of religion is indispensable for analyzing how violent conflict emerges, and how it might be resolved. I especially appreciated the help of members of the Institute of Advanced Theology in thinking through this difficult, fascinating, and compelling topic.
Whether one studies the conflicts of the past, or considers the dreadful level of violence inflicted internationally on religious grounds today, it is easy to despair that humanity will ever overcome its impulse to mutual destruction. Yet at the close of Advent a child's birth is celebrated as a sign of hope. His birth to parents who did not reside together at the time he was born happened in a land under Roman occupation. The child was ostracized according to the religious custom of his people, which insisted on clear proof of paternity. He was marginal from the point of view of Rome's imperial power.
The strength of the Christmas story transcends how precisely one sees Jesus, whether from the point of view of theology or history, because it takes us to the place where the strongest hope takes root in the midst of deep contention.