This is a festive season for churches, retailers, public officials, individuals and families. Is the hustle and bustle to decorate, invite, visit and joyfully celebrate enough?
Or are we hustling, bustling, decorating, inviting, visiting and celebrating without also confronting the prophetic challenges arising from the birth of Jesus Christ?
Jesus was born during the Roman Empire. Yet we refuse to think or talk about imperialism, either in the context of his birth or in its present forms. We’d rather talk about shepherds watching over their flocks without talking about the tyranny of imperialism.
But what if we thought and acted differently as Christians?
· Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and Jesus did not even enjoy the social and legal right of citizenship in their own homeland. A prophetic approach to Christmas might prod us to notice and care that Palestinians experience the same dilemma now.
· Would we notice that the Obama White House recently announced that the United States will no longer press Israel to stop West Bank settlement construction as a precondition to continued peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority?
· Is Christmas a time for us to party or a time for us to be prophetic?
A prophetic approach to Christmas would ask whether the “peace on earth” proclamation by the angelic hosts to the shepherds is consistent with the vast sums spent by the United States to outfit and support its military forces in remote locations such as Europe, Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.
A prophetic approach to Christmas might ask whether the act to deny a pathway to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants squares with “good news of great joy for all the people.” Joseph, Mary and Jesus became refugees – perhaps undocumented immigrants. Do our Christmas observances affirm the relationship between how they lived and social justice in our time?
Why are Christian preachers and congregations so eager to celebrate Mary and Joseph and Jesus but so indifferent toward the constant challenges facing unwed mothers, young parents and children born to poor families? What does it say about our spiritual insight and depth that we gloss over how the Spirit of God united with an unmarried poor woman living in an oppressive society and world?
How can Christian preachers and congregations be insensitive toward justice for sanitation workers, factory workers, office workers, restaurant and hotel workers, farm workers and unemployed workers while celebrating the shepherds who watched over their smelly flocks miles away from the approval and company of the governmental pomp and politics?
We expect warring armies to declare a cease-fire at Christmas. Why do the followers of Jesus seldom confront the political powers that command those warriors with prophetic calls to make peace in Korea, Israel, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Ivory Coast, the Sudan and elsewhere?
These questions and our failure or refusal to ask and answer them suggest that many Christian preachers and congregations are more concerned about Christmas festivities than the prophetic righteousness, justice, love and peace God presented the world in Jesus Christ. We are concerned about observing personal, family and congregational traditions more than being prophetic followers of God’s greatest prophet.
There is nothing wrong with a festive attitude toward Christmas. We should celebrate the birth of Christ because we should celebrate God’s love for us in Christ. The moral, spiritual and ethical problems surrounding the way Christian clergy and congregations observe Christmas arise because our festive Christmas observances seem disconnected from God’s prophetic work in Christ.
We need to celebrate being prophetic followers of Jesus Christ at Christmas. We need to celebrate God’s passion for love, truth, justice and peace that has been revealed through Jesus at Christmas. We need to confront the Caesar-types in our local, state, regional, national and global arenas concerning the prophetic challenges of divine love, truth, justice and peace at Christmas.
For Christians of all backgrounds, Christmas must become more than a cause to party. It must become an affirmation that God has, in Jesus Christ, joined our humanity for God’s own purpose – to make us prophetic agents of divine love, truth, justice and peace.
Any lesser celebration is unfair to God and Christ at Christmas and any other time.
Wendell L. Griffen is pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and a circuit court judge in Arkansas.