Christmas Perspectives from Religious Leaders

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Voices from religious leaders across the country including: Rabbi Mitch Chefitz of Temple Israel in Miami, Fla.; Chaplin Lt. Col. Guy Glay at the U.S. Embassy in the International Zone of Baghdad; Iman Sayed Hassan Al-Qazwini, the religious leader of The Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich; Rev. Doctor Kathlyn James, the senior pastor of the First United Methodist in Seattle; Roshi Joan Halifax of the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, N.M.; and David Roseberry of the Rector of Christ Church in Plano, Texas.


Messages of hope and peace are being heard around the world this Christmas Day. From midnight Mass in New Orleans to the lighting of the Hanukkah candles this evening in Jerusalem, religious leaders will recount the stories of their faiths. Over the weekend we spoke with some religious leaders and asked what they would be saying to their congregations as they celebrate the holidays.

Lieutenant Colonel GUY GLAD(ph) (Army): Merry Christmas. This is Lieutenant Colonel Guy Glad. I'm an Army chaplain stationed in Baghdad and I'm presently doing duty at the United States Embassy in the International Zone. For this Christmas, we have Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps personnel and we're going to be focusing on the traditional Christmas hymns as a part of our music and, of course, my message at both of the services will be a biblically focused message on the Gospel narrative of the birth of Christ. We're looking at Luke Chapter 2 and we're looking at Matthew Chapter 1 and the message of both of these sermons is going to be that God has fulfilled his promise in sending his son Jesus into the world as the savior. Focused on this message are the central key principals of hope, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. And that fits in real well with our mission here in Iraq. We are seeking to bring peace to the region and give the Iraqi civilians hope for a future and to bring reconciliation to the country. We're looking forward to having a packed house as we celebrate Christmas Day.

Imam HASSAN QAZWINI (Islamic Center of Baghdad): Hello, this is Imam Hassan Qazwini. I'm the religious leader of the Islamic Center of America based in Dearborn, Michigan. This week I will be speaking about three subjects. One, it is time for celebration. As Muslims, we join our Christian fellows in celebrating the birth of Jesus. I shall talk about the lessons learned from this great man and his inspiration. We Muslims believe that Jesus is a great messenger of God. He is his word and he is his spirit. We will talk about this event as a time for reflection. We shall reflect on the lessons learned from last year. And thirdly, I would like to speak also about the time, the time for hope to pray. I would pray for peace in the Middle East between the Arabs and Israelis. I would also pray for peace in Iraq, my native country. I pray that there will be a better interfaith work among the three major religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. I believe if we can work with each other, definitely the world would be in a better situation. So these are my prayers and my hopes for the new year and I hope that our people will celebrate this in a very peaceful and serene moment.

Reverend Dr. KATHERINE JAMES(ph) (First United Methodist Church): I'm Reverend Dr. Katherine James. I'm the senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in downtown Seattle. In the four weeks leading up to Christmas, I've been preaching about the names of the Messiah found in Isaiah Chapter 9. Those would be wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father and prince of peace. So this weekend I'm culminating that series by talking about the name of Jesus itself. You know in both Matthew and Luke, the Gospel writers tell how the angel came to Mary or Joseph and said you shall name this child Jesus. And Jesus literally means `God saves.' Jesus is a Greek form of the name Joshua or Yeshua. So when that happens, you look back in the Old Testament to see who's he being named after. What does that suggest? Joshua was the person in the Old Testament who led the Hebrew people out of the wilderness and into the promised land that they had hoped for and longed for for so long. So it might be that the name Jesus itself already suggests that through this person God saves us. The word save in Greek and Hebrew means to be made whole, so God makes us whole through this person and we might ask how? How does this happen? Jesus is like Joshua. This person in the way he lived and taught, the life he demonstrated, if we were to follow him, would lead us to the wholeness of life and peace on Earth that we all seek for ourselves and in our own individual relationships and the fulfillment of our hopes for this world.

Reverend Canon DAVID H. ROSEBERRY (Christ Church): This is the Reverend Canon David H. Roseberry. I'm the rector of Christ Church in Plano, Texas. Once you get past all the trite and political debate about saying, `Merry Christmas,' at the heart of it is a great story of a great hope of two people oddly matched with tremendous odds against them. Getting a late start for one and an early start for another, make their way to Bethlehem and God has planned out the whole thing. That aside from the great decrees of Caesar Augustus and Quirinius, Mary and Joseph are really doing the thing that God wants them to do. And God is working in the most difficult and harsh circumstances to bring about his great purposes of the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Rabbi MITCH CHEFITZ (Temple Israel): Hi, this is Rabbi Mitch Chefitz from Temple Israel of Greater Miami. This weekend we're going to be talking about angels. We see so many angels at the top of Christmas trees. I get questions about angels in Jewish tradition. It so happens that we have an angel alluded to in the Torah portions of this week. Joseph has been sent by his father to find his brothers who are shepherding the flock up towards Shfen(ph) and he's wandering around the field not eager to find them and he encounters an unnamed man. There's a tradition that tells us whenever we have an unnamed man, that is an angel who has been sent to make sure that a certain rendezvous takes place. And so Joseph ultimately finds his brothers. There are two types of angels. We have vertical angels, that is an angel that connects an individual back to God, and we have horizontal angels. Those are angels that are created in every relationship. And this angel that Joseph encounters is a horizontal angel. It's the angel that represents the relationship between him and his brothers. On Hanukkah we do whatever we can to encourage the strengthening of such angels gathering, surround Hanukkah menorahs and lighting them, celebrations and gatherings of light and as a result we will have a very joyous Hanukkah indeed.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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