The Common Good

How Much of Christ Can We Stand in Christmas?

Midway through the dash from Thanksgiving Day to Gift-giving Day, it’s time for the annual quandary: “How much of Christ can we stand in Christmas?”

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Christmas manger image courtesy gst via Shutterstock

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If you accept the notion that God had more in mind than fir trees laden with gifts, that the original event was about a messiah changing the world, how are we doing?

The “doorbuster” mobs that went crazy on Black Friday suggest that humanity’s need for a messiah is great.

The global outpouring of grief over Nelson Mandela suggests we yearn for glimpses of Christ-like leadership, that we know the difference between John Boehner and Nelson Mandela and prefer the latter.

Mounting evidence that the right wing has no grand economic or governance strategy but is simply cruel and self-serving brings to mind the paranoia of Herod.

The oppressive legions of Caesar and their co-opting of the Jewish religious establishment sound eerily similar to our spy-on-everyone surveillance state and its willing accomplices.

The poor beg for good news, strangers beg to be allowed inside, the “lowly” are giving up hope. The working poor survive on two meals a day, and now Tea Party patriots want to take away food stamps. Meanwhile, the “rich” won’t share even a little bit. I’d say Mary’s “Magnificat” is timelier than ever.

No less timely is Zechariah’s hopeful vision of mercy to those who live in “darkness” and deliverance from enemies seeking wealth and power.

John’s rage against “vipers” that wanted the benefits of religion without the humility and submission of faith rings true today.

What inn could be more filled and inaccessible than the gated communities and high-end eateries where modern revelers celebrate themselves?

What marginalized persons could be more eager to hear the angels than service-economy workers toiling hard for minimum wage while being scorned by the entitled?

I’d say the moment is ripe for “Christ in Christmas” — the real Christ, of course, who shunned the privileged and aligned himself with sinners and outcasts, whose heart went out to sufferers like the homeless of Rome whom a new pope risks serving.

I’d say the moment is ripe for new life being born in stables and forced to flee the powerful and greedy. We have seen Mammon’s insatiable maw, power’s absolute corruption of the human soul, and thugs murdering the many in order to protect the few — and we know our need of something better.

So, yes, it’s time for Christ in Christmas. Time for new life, time for hope, time for the faithful to say yes to God. Time for peace, not war. Time for repentance, not comfort at any cost. Time for justice and mercy and the even-handed goodness that God promised.

This, of course, isn’t what zealots mean when they vow to “defend” the faith from a culture’s “war on Christmas.” They want a free-fire zone where moralizers can denounce all but the like-minded, and churches with huge budgets can frighten or seduce worshippers into donor mode. They mean using Jesus’ name to impose the very cultural and political oppression that Jesus escaped once as a child but couldn’t escape as an adult.

Fortunately, God sees the world as it is and sends a messiah to save it. Christ will be in Christmas because God wants it that way.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich. Via RNS.

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