Against a backdrop of angry rhetoric and a world trying to deal with violence and killing, more than a billion Christians around the world will celebrate the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ on Christmas Day tomorrow, December 25.
In the US and in many countries, gifts are exhanged between friends, family members, especially children, and other loved ones. It has been widely reported that giving gifts is healthy for the gift giver.
In one of the brightest moments in a year otherwise marked by violence and unusual political debate, Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of Roman Catholics, greeted a young girl who broke through a security barrier in Washington on his visit to the US capital with open arms and hugs. Likewise, people in Germany and in many US communities have greeted refugees from Syria into their homelands with open arms.
Pope Francis, however, told churchgoers during a mass at the Basilica di Santa Maria last month that Christmas this year would be a “charade” because “the whole world is at war.”
Time.com reported that his speech, coming after several violent incidents, including the terrorist attacks on the ground in Paris, the bomb in Egyptian airspace, and the mowing down of government employees at a holiday party and at a Planned Parenthood facility in the US, noted how close the world was to Christmas.
“There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes—all decked out—while the world continues to wage war,” he said.
“It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace. The whole world is at war. A war can be justified, so to speak, with many, many reasons, but when all the world [is], as it is today, at war, piecemeal though that war may be—a little here, a little there—there is no justification.”
Despite the current status of the world and the seemingly perpetual inability of US politicians to pay attention to some simple truths about our world, including pluralism, global climate change, and gun violence, the social justice normally promoted by the Christmas season in what seems like an old-fashioned world of Christian belief was what Jesus would have preached.
St Paul, a follower of Jesus, explained in a letter he wrote after Jesus had died:
Brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, and reject every kind of evil.
Even taken at face value, the words of the apostle would move us toward social justice for all people, no matter what religion they followed, no matter what race they were, no matter what sex they were, no matter what country they came from. Taken holistically, the words would encourage us to make things good for all people on the planet—or at least to try to do that. These words implore us to “test everything” and that, to me, means to conduct research and listen to science wherever we can, not to reject it out of hand.
But instead, we worship money, data, and other false idols in our lives that have no lasting or real value whatsoever. In fact, these false gods we worship only serve to enslave us and make us less able to deal with real people and the serious issues they face.
We Americans hold democracy in high regard, but when that democracy puts ignorance above knowledge, victory above politics, career government above good governance, propaganda above research, free speech above free thought, or blind denial of the truth above the seeking of the truth, we step further away from where Jesus’ words would put us.
We close with the words of Pope Francis in his Christmas homily this year:
In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential. … In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will. … Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy, drawn daily from the wellspring of prayer.