Christmas is about lifting up the poor
Christmas approaches. Families gather. For some, there is a whirl of presents to wrap, cards to address, meals to cook. For many on this Christmas, times are hard, and it’s worth recalling the message of this mass we celebrate on the birth of Christ.
We treat it as a holiday, but it is meant as a holy day. It isn’t about cards or fancy presents. The real story is about two parents summoned from their home with no place to stay. An innkeeper took one look at them and said there was no room at the inn. So the baby was born in a manger, on a straw floor in a working barn. It was cold and harsh. The stars in the heavens provided the heat.
These weren’t normal times. Among the poor and the oppressed, there had grown a mighty expectation. Prophets said a Messiah would come–a prince of princes, a king of kings–to free the oppressed. They expected a mighty warrior able to destroy the Roman oppressors and free His people.
Wise men from the East saw a mighty star in the sky and knew that the Messiah had come. They traveled far seeking to worship the new king. They met with Herod in Jerusalem on the way and told him of their mission. Herod was disturbed and asked the Magi to report back to him when they found the child so that he could worship him. The Magi found the child and worshipped Him–but, warned in a dream, they avoided Herod and went back another way. Herod was furious and ordered the execution of all children 2 and under in Bethlehem. An angel warned the couple, however, and they fled to Egypt, immigrants without papers.
Why was the mighty Herod so fearful? The prophet Isaiah had predicted that a child would be born and the “government will be on his shoulders” and he would “preach good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives.” And as the Gospel of Luke tells us, as a young man Jesus read from Isaiah and embraced His charge to “preach good news to the poor.” No wonder Herod was “disturbed.”
Let us not forget the real story amid all the commercial trappings. The birth of the Messiah foretold a revolution, a transformation, one that rightly threatened the Roman governors, the moneychangers and the elites of the time. Everyone expected a mighty soldier, a general of generals. But the Messenger, like Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Lech Walesa, never lifted a sword, carried a shield or amassed a fortune. Yet His gospel overturned an Empire and transformed the world. He taught us the power of love and hope and charity.
We need to heed this message. No one aspires to be Herod; today, we should focus on the spirituality of the event and not the commercialism of Santa. Christmas is really an occasion to celebrate the emancipation of oppressed people and the story of at-risk children often dismissed by a society that never discovers their genius.
We now wage two wars on the other side of the world, but grow less secure. We spend record amounts on weapons, while more go hungry in this nation. Billions of dollars are devoted to bailing out banks, but millions of people remain unemployed. A record 2 million are in jail, most of them for nonviolent offenses. We have grown fearful of and angry at the immigrants in our midst. Senate Republicans even filibustered the Dream Act, which would have simply embraced undocumented workers’ innocent children who had learned the language, stayed in school and excelled. This story speaks directly to us.
So on this Christmas Day, take a moment for the true message. Let us measure ourselves by how we treat the young in the dawn of life, the poor in the pit of life, the elderly in the dusk of life, the stranger on the Jericho Road. We should commit ourselves to bring peace to Bethlehem. Let us remember that the real gift wasn’t the presents that the Wise Men brought. The real gift was the child Himself, wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.
Merry Christmas, everybody.