I don’t want to write a blog entry that makes us feel guilty. Yet, I’ve been struggling, today, as I’ve thought about what it means to celebrate Christmas. You see, I was buying last minute Christmas presents when I thought about
the distance between the birth of Jesus and the way we observe his birth.
We deck the halls, trim the trees and don the gay apparel. Skirts under the trees are covered with packages neatly bowed and tagged. We spend an incredible amount of money in this season. Yet, the birth of Jesus happens in poverty. He is born to a family that can’t even bribe its way into an inn. They are very poor. Joseph is a carpenter in a land where wood is scarce. What kind of income could he have earned?
So, how do we, as people of faith, as leaders of Christian communities, reconcile the difference between the culture of consumerism and the message that God chooses to be born among the poor?
I know, it’s a real bummer to think about. We’re so busy working on having “the perfect Christmas” and providing a great Christmas worship experience for those who will worship with us on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Maybe we’ll be wearing the new sweaters given us by our children or new jewelry given by our spouses. (No, Kim, there are no hints in here, nor am I spilling the beans about what I got you.) We’ll go home and rest after the worship services are done, feeling satisfied that we’ve done Christmas well in the church…
But where are the poor of the world in all of this? Can Christmas be celebrated if we choose not to go to those for whom God showed preference? Somehow, we’ve got to get Christmas back on terra firma, and recognize that Christmas is all about God’s decision to enter the world in order that the poor be lifted up.
Mary’s song, known as The Magnificat, from Luke 1, sets out God’s agenda. Christmas should always call us to examine our intent in light of God’s. The birth of Jesus is about bringing down the powerful from their thrones, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, and sending the rich away empty (Luke 1:52-53). This season has become a season when the rich become richer: consumerism rules Christmas. God’s intent should drive us toward an opposite action.
Here’s the thing about guilt. It’s what we feel when we are immobile in the face of challenge. I’m interested in action, not guilt. I want to act. I want the church to act. What if all Christians decided that they would make it their mission to go beyond handouts (a little food to the food pantry, a few bucks in the Salvation Army bucket) for the poor? What if we all decided that we would be about lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry? What if we were serious about doing what is needed for God’s intended way to become reality where we are? Moving beyond guilt to action, we can do these things.
I see people doing this often. Sometimes, they are even members of churches. Christmas Day, a handful of volunteers will make sure a meal is served in the community. They will provide hospitality for some who are poor and welcome others who wish to be drawn into a time of fellowship. For the past several months, volunteers have been hard at work with Toys for Tots. They are making sure that those in need are well taken care of in this season. Hilda will continue to buy food for the shelves of our food pantry. Char and her crew will keep on distributing clothing from our clothing closet.
If we are to follow God’s lead in these things, then we will move beyond guilt. We will act incarnationally. We’ll be found in the places where God chooses to become and to be born. We’ll be found in relationship with those cast out and pressed down. We’ll be involved in the tasks of advocating for those whose voices are not heard, whose value is questioned, whose dignity is often dismissed. If we are interested in God’s mission, we’ll do this year round, so that the “promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his desendents…” (Luke 1:55) will take on flesh and continually be born in this world. People will see our witness to God’s loving action, and will remember God’s mercy. They will see it take flesh in the body of Christ.
How might you be called beyond guilt and into action? How might we, as leaders in the church, lead our people into meaningful relationship with those among whom God intentionally chose to come?
The photo, Nativity Scene – Adoration by the Shepherds is by Eusebius Photo. It is used according to its Creative Commons (CC BY 2.) license.