By Reverend Chuck Currie of Portland, Oregon. Chuck is the interim minister of Parkrose Community United Church of Christ in NE Portland. He also blogs at ChuckCurrie.com.
Each year we retell the story of the birth of Jesus. It is a 2,000 year old story of hope and promise that inspires even today. The Gospel of Luke tells of his birth (2:7 NRSV):
"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."
Christmas comes at a dark time across the world this year. We face a global economic crisis, on-going wars, genocide in Darfur, and, as the anti-poverty group Bread for the World reports, the loss of 16 million children a year due to hunger. Where do we find hope in a moment such as this? What is the real meaning of Christmas in these times?
Perhaps the realities around us will force those of us who are Christians to focus away from the dominant consumer cultural and embrace instead the ideals fundamental in Biblical teaching. Many of the stories contained in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian New Testament were written from the perspectives of people not so unlike us – people who were fearful of uncertain times, battered by war, and hungry for change – and who found hope in a God who offered the prophets and Jesus himself as guides and partners in their journeys out of the wilderness.
One of the central teachings of both the Hebrew and Christian traditions comes from the Prophet Isaiah (58:10 NRSV):
"...if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday."
Jesus echoed these words many times over.
What, Jesus was asked, is the greatest commandment? He replied:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-39 NRSV)
It is perplexing to many that a religion based on compassion, love and tolerance is so often found on the wrong side of history. Many brave Christians fought against slavery in the American South but more supported that evil institution. Today growing numbers of Christians work for social equality but others use their churches to fight against legal rights for women and gays and lesbians. It must be admitted that many feel that the Christian faith extinguishes hope where it is most needed.
As we celebrate Christmas this year, let us resolve to live out our faith in ways that reach back to the prophets and Jesus. At the dawn of the last century, Christians in the United States stepped out of their pews and into the streets to fight against child labor and on behalf of immigrants and workers. Like Jesus, these Progressive-era Christians challenged the status quo and organized movements to promote social justice. Today the issues are different but the needs are even greater.
We too can turn the darkness around us into the light of noon if only we reach out in partnership with all the people of the globe, regardless of faith or creed, and work to save our planet, God's own creation, from climate change, war, and poverty. The issues we face as a people might seem insurmountable but to do nothing misses the point of the Christmas story. Each Christmas, we are reminded that with compassion, wisdom and justice as our guides we can light up the world and toss aside the old order in favor of the peaceable Kingdom of God. On Christmas a new day is born.