Originally published in our December 1994 issue.
What has always amazed me about the story of Christmas is the idea that God chose to be a part of this world. That decision makes quite a statement, coming from a Creator. This world must be worth attending to.
The Christmas story occurs at a rocky time and place in history. One nationality was being oppressed by another. An aggressive empire was seeking to extend its influence and control throughout the known world. Poverty, disease, and ignorance plagued most of the population, while a few (maybe about 6%) lived in comfort, even riches. I used to wonder why God didn’t pick a better time to join us in our story. But then I have to wonder, when was there a better time?
Many times in Jesus’ life, he was challenged by both supporters and opponents to straighten everything out, wipe out the oppressors, make the tax system more fair, and bring an end to disease and poverty. He consistently turned those challenges back to the challenger. Jesus’ life had very little to say about winning, but much to say about risking, and humility, and being there.
Jesus walked and talked. He spoke with oppressors and oppressed. He spoke with tax collectors—maybe even fraudulent ones. He spoke with known sinners and private ones. He spoke with earnest seekers and with religious bureaucrats, with terminally ill people and suspected malingerers. In each encounter, he addressed the dignity, worth, and essential truth in the person he was with.
These conversations changed history.
In Jesus’ story, quiet, honest conversations challenged people to see and act upon the best in themselves, even when that value was deeply hidden in the trappings of a troubled society. The story is not finished yet. The example we are given calls us to engage in this world, in our time. We have conversations with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and sometimes with community leaders and political figures. These conversations can continue to weave a changed history.
Our country is like an empire, capable of exerting its power throughout the known world. Most of the citizens of our country do not question the rightness and necessity of violent intervention in border disputes and internal struggles of other countries. Alternative approaches—ideas that take into account the dignity and worth of all parties—could be part of our conversations.
We live in a land of extremes. Within this country, we now have a gap of historical proportions between the very richest and the very poorest among us. And in the world, even the poorest in this country may have a better chance of survival than the poorest in many other lands. But we are a nation of independent people; those who don’t “make it” are thought to be somehow flawed. Our conversations could reflect our faith in the worth of each person. Should I wait for a better time to engage with this imperfect world?
Should I wait till the politicians are less partisan, the issues less heart-rending, and the democratic processes more fair? Should I wait until I can assure myself that good will prevail, and militarism, poverty, and injustice will be overcome? Why go on, without such assurances? Because there is still so much to say and to hear and to question. There is still so much to build. The perfect time to continue the story is now.