In 1979, as Mao Zedong’s communist regime began to open to western trade, Coke was introduced to China. The company just used Mandarin symbols to render its name phonetically - Ko-kou-ko-la. It wasn’t until after tens of thousands of signs had been printed, that the company discovered that the phrase Ko-kou-ko-la means: ‘Bite the wax tadpole’. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and finally found a close phonetic equivalent, ‘ko-kou-ko-le,’ which can be loosely translated as: ‘Happiness in the mouth’.
It is amazing just how much difference a few characters, a few words, can make in the meaning of something. For example, growing up I had always heard the message that the angels sing translated “Glory to God in the highest! Peace on earth and good will to men.” Then at some point in my childhood the church started using the NRSV translation, which says, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
It’s not a huge change, but to me it made a world of difference. In the version I grew up with the angels seem to be proclaiming peace to the whole wide world. But, in the NRSV, God seems to pick and choose who gets the peace. It’s only the people that God favors. So what? If we don’t have peace does that mean God doesn’t favor us? That just seemed so horrible to me.
Unfortunately, they didn’t consult me when they made the change. Instead they worked to translate the original Greek as faithfully as they possibly could. Horrible I know. But, as I have thought about this rendition, which really is a better translation, I find it really is very consistent with the story we are in the process of telling in this season. The birth that we wait for in Advent is that of Emmanuel, of God with us, God incarnate. What the Christmas story says is that God favors all of creation. God is intricately wrapped up with humanity in Christ. That is what this Jesus story is all about.
So the peace that is for those whom God favors really is peace for the whole wide world. The peace of God comes through relationship with God, through union with God. And the way we get there is through contemplation, through developing a deep felt connection with God and with creation. And this is what Advent is for – a time set apart in the year to reflect on our relationship with God and to be intentional about building it up. May this be the case for you, and may you all have a very merry Christmas!
Rev. Donald Hanna
Alamosa Presbyterian Church