December 2014

Dear Prince of Peace Family,

The holidays are upon us! And with them come many family traditions and times spent with one another.

In our family, one of the holiday, winter-time traditions is to build jigsaw puzzles and play family games together. In addition to individual gifts under the Christmas tree, there's usually 'family presents,' a puzzle or two, and a new game to try. How does that work in your family? In ours, sometimes the new game 'sticks' and becomes a favorite. Sometimes it ends up in a rummage sale a few months down the road. So we usually find ourselves also playing some time-tested favorites -- like Monopoly. That old favorite still gets brought out with regularity.

One of the suggested activities for the Famine 2014 which our youth undertook Nov. 14-15 was to play a modified version of Monopoly. We didn't have time to actually play a whole game, but we used the idea to talk about what they were learning that weekend of fasting 30 hours. Instead of everyone starting out with the same money, and no property, this modified version of Monopoly begins with unequal stakes: Team 1 gets $5000 and a couple high-end properties; Team 2 gets $2000 and mid-range properties; and Team 3 starts with $500 and a couple low-end properties. If you played under these rules ten times, how often do you think each team would win? Now, think of this game as a metaphor for real life:

We had a good conversation, with the issue of fighting world hunger in mind. We came to agreement that serving people who are hungry is like helping other players within the rules of the game. In a game of Monopoly, it might mean giving some of your money or property to other players; granting amnesty when someone lands on your property; or helping to develop another player's property. What a strange game that would be! Have you ever experienced Monopoly played that way?

Now, what would it mean to strive for justice and peace? We thought that this would mean seeking to change the rules of the game itself -- trying to get all the players to agree on rules that would give everyone a more fair chance. In fighting world hunger, this means advocating in government for game-changing ways of greater equity among peoples.

At the end of our church year, Christ the King Sunday (Nov. 23), we heard the passage about Jesus saying, at a "judgment of the nations": 'I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; a stranger, and you welcomed me; sick, and you took care of me; a prisoner, and you visited me. ... Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' We pondered the metaphor of the Monopoly game to consider that this passage isn't so much about individuals acting with charity as it is about Jesus the King coming to show God's rules by which nations are judged. Our nation, as all before us, is being judged by how we care for the poor, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner. If we love our nation and want it to survive the judgment of all other nations before us, most often ending in a conflagration of our own human violence, then we will work together to shape our rules of the game according to the ones God had put in place through King Jesus.

This message will serve us well, too, to ponder as we prepare for Christmas. Luke opens the familiar Christmas story against this background: "In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus, ... while Quirinius was governor of Syria..." This is one of several times where Luke tells us exactly who the rulers were in power. Why? Because a new king was being born who came to reveal God's rules by which the game of history must be played. They are rules where everyone ends up winning, because we learn to care most for the least of God's world-wide family. We can continue to keep playing by our own rules, but then our nation and its rulers will end-up the same as all the others who have gone before us.

Or we can rejoice with the angel and the whole heavenly host: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those of God's loving desire!" Born 2000 years ago, in the city of David, is a new king! One who came to show us how the game is truly played!

As Tiny Tim says, "God bless us, every one!"

Pastor Paul