Here are my thoughts for Christmas, 2008.
What is the true meaning of Christmas? Has it gotten to the point where Christmas carries the same meaning for the month of December as the name aspirin does the Bayer? Is Christmas so much a part of our December lifestyle that we don’t even pause to think about what we should be doing?
We hear politicians almost automatically end their speeches with “God Bless America” and woe be to any politician should they not add “so help me God” to the end of their oath of office, even if it is not part of the official oath. We put “In God We Trust” on our money and we raised all sorts of ruckus when it was placed on the side of the coin instead of the full side (there are numismatic terms for where it goes but I don’t remember them). We get bent out of shape when someone argues about taking the phrase “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance, even though the phrase was never in the original Pledge and only put into the Pledge during the 1950’s, at the height of the great “Communists in the closet” scare.
We hear commentators on the far right get all bent out of shape when some store uses “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in their advertising and call it the “war on Christmas”. But these commentators are not interested in the meaning of Christmas; all they are interested in is that our economy and Christmas be linked together. We have lost the meaning of Thanksgiving through the need to have sales over the Thanksgiving holiday and now it seems as if all we hear at Christmas time are economic reports and the need for lots and lots of spending to keep our economy strong.
This may be the year a miracle is needed then because it will almost certainly take some sort of miracle for this country’s economy to recover to the level everyone wants it at. But that’s not the true miracle of Christmas and unless this country seriously stops what it is doing and begins to think about what Christmas means, it will take more than a miracle to solve the problems of this country.
Because the problems of this country are not just economic; they are social as well. The problems of this country are not found in how much we spend and buy but in the fact that we equate success with how much we spend and how much we earn. And while we focus on monetary gains, we forget that there are many people who will not have anything this Christmas and that a simple dinner of hot dogs and beans may be a luxury dinner.
Society has used Christianity to justify war, violence, racism, and suppression while at the same time saying it represented peace and hope. It is no wonder that so many people are leaving the church today or finding solace in other places. The words that they hear do not correspond with the actions they see.
And in a world drowning in despair and lost in the present darkness, the one thing the world does not need is a confusing message from Christ’s representatives on earth. The core message of the Gospel, in fact the core message of the entire Bible, is to care for other individuals, no matter who they might be. But we have transformed the message of the Gospel into a message of the individual first. Instead of a community of believers dedicated to the care of all the members of the community, we have become a corporate entity that serves the interests of selected individuals.
Instead of caring for the world in which we live, we quite willing pursue policies that pillage the environment. Instead of challenging our youth to see beyond the boundaries of tomorrow, we seek to limit how they learn and what they learn. We call for accountability from our teachers yet we won’t put money into the educational processes so that our children can truly learn.
And while we worry what will happen if our corporations fail, we show little concern for the people who work for those corporations and who may lose their jobs because of the greed and incompetence of upper management. We call for sacrifices and givebacks from the workers but we don’t demand accountability or sacrifices from the recipients of our government.
Against this background of indifference, antipathy, and ignorance a child will be born. This child will be born into a world of limits and rules, a world where economic status guarantees privilege and success, a world where one is born and who their parents are will determine their future.
The birth of Jesus will be announced to the lowliest of society, the shepherds in the field. The wisest and perhaps richest of society, the Magi, will seek Him out. The message of Christ’s birth some two thousand years ago will echo across the land of his birth and around the globe. It will echo down through the ages to this day and place. It is a message that transforms people and changes societies.
In the darkness of the season, a light first appeared. In the stillness of the night, a tiny cry was heard. The message of Christ began in that light and with that cry; it is the miracle of Christmas. Shall that light be seen in the darkness of today; shall the cry of joy be heard this year?
If people choose to ignore this message and choose to put themselves before others; if people choose to ignore this message and put corporations before individuals; if people choose to maintain the status quo of wealth and privilege then there will be no miracle this year.
But if those who call themselves Christian again hear the message and take it into the heart and soul and put the message into action, then there will be a miracle this Christmas. If society is transformed from what it is now into what it can be by the people who celebrate this birth, then there will be a miracle.