Christmas Reflections - 2019
“Joy to the World. The Lord Has Come. Let Earth Receive Her King.” So begins one of my favorite Christmas carols. Christmas is a time of joy, a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. To early Christians, Jesus’ birth was the "good news" prophesized in the Old Testament. The word Christ comes from Christos, a Greek word that means “the anointed one,” or “the chosen one.” The Hebrew word meaning the same thing is Mashiach or Messiah. The Messiah was to be God’s chosen Lord or King of the world, as was foretold by the Old Testament prophets. To Christians, Jesus was, and is, the Lord, the King—the Christ in Christmas. The story of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection became known as the “gospel”—which comes from the Old English word god, meaning "good", and spel, meaning "news, or story." Joy to the World. The Lord Has Come!
That being said, many Christians may see little other cause for great joy this Christmas. TV news programs and newspaper headlines shout out the news of a congressional impeachment of the President. Christianity is also widely viewed as at least sanctioning the actions that have led to his impeachment. His Democratic contenders have focused national attention on the growing divide between rich and poor and the powerful and oppressed, which is ripping apart the social fabric of the country. Christianity is widely viewed as providing political support for dismantling government programs that were designed to address these inequities. Some Christians see climate change as the preeminent crisis of all times, while others see it as a hoax created and perpetrated by environmental extremists. Meanwhile, the nation seems committed to endless wars against people who may have good reason to believe the U.S. is trying to spread materialism, “its true religion,” around the world. Growing religious divisiveness, not only between Christianity and Islam but also within the community of Christians, is a major contributor to the current crisis of confidence that threatens the future of the nation and the World.
In the New Testament, James writes of joy in a different sense than is commonly understood. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” I believe the test of faith confronting Christians in the U.S. today is greater than at any time since the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln, in his speech at Cooper Union prior to the Civil War, spoke at length of how the founders of the nation had interpreted the U.S. Constitution as giving the federal government power to enact laws concerning slavery in the states of the Union. He went through a litany of attempts to appease the slave states, including simply prohibiting the expansion of slavery into new states of the Union. He concluded, there was no means of appeasement other than to declare slavery as being morally right and opposition to slavery as morally wrong, which he could not do. Christians were bitterly and deeply divided on the morality of slavery. There was no middle ground.
A few years later, in his now famous Gettysburg address, President Lincoln began, "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” Conceived in Liberty and dedicated to Justice. This great nation was built of a moral foundation of liberty and justice—which forever must be balanced, one with the other. There can be no liberty without justice or justice without liberty.
Once again, we are confronted with a constitutional crisis. Disagreements over political and economic inequity are a conflict between those who believe the liberty to become rich and powerful is guaranteed by the Constitution and those who believe social and economic justice is a basic Constitutional right. Disagreements over climate change and other environmental issues are basically issues of environmental justice and the rights of future generations. This impeachment of the President represents a conflict between those who believe the U.S. Constitution requires a balance of power among the three branches of government and those who believe a President, once elected by the people, has been given the constitutional power to govern, regardless of the will of Congress or an impartial Supreme Court.
So where can we see hope? Jesus’s apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans “Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Hope is always rooted in faith—in that which cannot be seen and for which we must wait patiently. Hope is not the same as optimism, or even the certainty that something good will happen. Hope is only in the possibility of something good, no matter the odds. In the book of Corinthians, Paul wrote, “And now these three remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” As I have written previously, I believe love can best be defined as a belief or faith in “inherent goodness”—in ourselves, our friends and family, our nation, and in humanity. At times like these, our most important source of hope is faith in the inherent goodness of God’s creation. We don’t yet have it or see it, we must wait for it patiently.
If we really believe the “good news” that Jesus brought to the world, there is reason for hope. For example, in his Sermon on the Mount, his message was of faith, hope, and love—blessed are the meek, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers. Lincoln closed his speech at Cooper Union this way, “Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.” In faith and in love, there is always hope. Joy to the World, the Lord Has Come.