Christmas in Nineveh
“This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.” – Luke 11:29-30 (NRSV)
There are places where none of us want to go. You know…like the mall on Christmas Eve, or your Aunt Susan’s on Christmas Day. They’re the places where we feel stressed or out of place, and can’t wait to leave.
Jonah had one of those places too. It was a city named Nineveh, and he wanted nothing to do with it. God told him to go anyway and to tell the people of this broken city, filled with evil and pain, to change their ways. But Jonah didn’t go…he ran. It wasn’t until God had Jonah swallowed by a whale that Jonah relented and went to Nineveh.
Let me tell you where I don’t want to go: this passage. I don’t want to be writing about God’s judgment a few weeks before Christmas, telling everyone that Jesus said we were all evil.
But then I remember this: the story of Jesus’ birth is just the start of a longer story, one of God coming into this world and living with us. Eventually, the world did its worst to Jesus. He was persecuted and killed because this world can be as unfair and broken as Nineveh. It’s not a pretty reality, ready for preaching at the Christmas Eve service, but it’s the reality nonetheless.
The hope for me comes in the metaphor that Jesus uses. He compares himself to Jonah and the world to Nineveh. Unlike Jonah, though, Jesus is not running.
In Advent we have a choice. We know that Jesus is coming into this world in just a little while. We can choose to run, or we can choose to listen. This world is still so broken, but there is still so much hope left to claim. On Christmas, the greatest present we could give the world is this: when the Prince of Peace comes to us all we will take notice, listen, and dare to change.
God: Like Nineveh, we will listen, and we will dare to be changed by the greatest gift we will ever receive. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of The Congregational Church in Exeter (New Hampshire) and the author most recently of Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fear.