Advent and antisemitism are unfriendly allies. Why do I say that?
Advent is the season of waiting for and celebrating the coming of Jesus, the Messiah presented to us as a baby. This wonderful belief in Jesus as Christ poses a problem, however, when it puts on the clothes of supersessionism—namely, that God’s coming in Jesus Christ supersedes, replaces, and cancels God’s covenant with the Jewish people.
Supersessionism becomes even more problematic when it is coupled with antisemitism, a form of racism against Jewish people. The word “Semite” was coined in Germany in the late 19th century and used to claim that Jewish people, who were allegedly from a supposed Semitic race rather than an equally hypothetical Aryan race, were inferior. Though ingrained in bogus science and exposed for the ugly untruths it contains, antisemitic thinking is not a thing of the past. We cannot ignore the antisemitic roots of the growing number of shootings at synagogues, hate graffiti, and attacks on Jewish people in recent years.
How can we as Christians avoid supercessionist thinking and combat antisemitism? First, preachers and worship leaders have a responsibility to choose scripture passages every Sunday that include the Hebrew Scriptures as regular and equally important texts. This is particularly difficult during Advent, when the focus is on Jesus. But Jesus was Jewish and known as a rabbi—a teacher of Judaism. Obviously, he was deeply and formatively influenced by his Jewish faith. Even if the main text for a sermon is the gospel reading, the four gospels are steeped in Judaism.
Second, we need to critically reflect on contentious passages that caricature Jewish people and practices embedded in the gospels and the epistles. Such reflection requires intentionally seeking out resources that help us to confront and dispel antisemitic interpretations from biblical exegesis and Christian thinking. One such resource is Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews: A Lectionary Commentary by Clark Williamson and Ronald Allen (Westminster John Knox, 2004).
—The Rev. Dr. HyeRan Kim-Cragg is Associate Professor of Preaching at Emmanuel College, Toronto.