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World news and commentary: February 2024

Another victim in war: Christmas

Christians in war-torn areas of our world have suffered severely. This year, Christmas itself suffered too. Consider two major theaters of war—Israel and Ukraine. In October and November, the top Christian leaders in Jerusalem repeatedly called for a humanitarian cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and pledged support for those suffering, especially women and children. A statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem¹ requested that all parties de-escalate the cycle of violence. The statement concluded, “Only in this way, we believe, can the groundwork be laid for an eventual diplomatic consideration of longstanding grievances so that a just and lasting peace can finally be achieved throughout our beloved Holy Land—both in our time, and for generations to come.”

ukraine and Israel flagsIn a similar way, leaders also instructed the faithful to refrain from any “unnecessarily festive” Advent or Christmas celebrations in the Holy Land. Over 120,000 visitors typically attend a range of services, light celebrations, bazaars, and street concerts in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and elsewhere.

Meanwhile in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a law over the summer changing the official state holiday of Christmas from Jan. 7 to Dec. 25. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which formally cut ties with the Russian Orthodox Church but remains “suspicious” to many Ukrainians, and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine are both part of the Eastern Orthodox Church of roughly 220 million Christians. The Orthodox tradition historically celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7, but the war with Russia has changed that practice. The Ukrainian government made the change to Dec. 25 to “abandon the Russian heritage.”

In both Israel and Ukraine, it seems that the One who truly brings peace on earth is forgotten amid “power politics.” We might not know the intricacies of each conflict, but one thing we can say as Lutherans is that Jesus Christ, born for the salvation of sinners, shouldn’t be tossed around like a political football by government or religious leaders. Apparently, even Christmas is a victim in war, but there is still good news of great joy in Jesus.

Religion is good for your health

A recent study² gives a “radical” thought: Religion is good for your well-being! Many have noted a growing mental health crisis in our world, but until now the relationship between mental health and spirituality, religion, or faith has been largely unexamined. A report from Gallup and the Radiant Foundation explored data from 152 countries and territories collected from 2012 to 2022, including interviews with approximately 1.5 million people.

woman holding hands over heartReligious people reported higher outcomes than nonreligious people in numerous areas, including “Positive Experiences,” meaning they experienced enjoyment, laughed a lot, were treated with respect, learned something, or felt well-rested (69% to 65%). Each percentage point represents 40 million people worldwide. Religious people also scored higher in the “Social Life” index, which measures a person’s satisfaction with making friends and having people you can call on if you get in trouble (77% to 73%). The Gallup-Radiant report discusses the decline in overall religious participation while the mental health crisis has grown.

The study wasn’t a slam dunk for the benefits of religion because religious people reported more worry, sadness, anger, and stress than nonreligious people (31% to 29%). The study also didn’t differentiate between different systems of belief (e.g., Christianity vs. Hinduism).

Statistics are easy to manipulate, but we know the obvious benefits to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians have something beautiful to offer in providing community and bringing help to the hurting. Jesus himself grants rest for the weary, an eternal identity and purpose, and peace through the forgiveness of sins. Yes, the true Christian faith is good for your health!

¹lpj.org/en/news/category-1/hoc-and-archbishop-of-canterbury-statement-on-the-bombing-of-st
²news.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/512216/religion-spirituality-tools-better-wellbeing.aspx

Author: Benjamin Schaefer
Volume 111, Number 2
Issue: February 2024

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