During the Exodus, the Hebrews were reminded of their time in bondage, specifically commanded by God to not allow themselves to forget what it was like to suffer. We suffer, so that we might understand one another, or rather, empathize with each other. Pain is what makes us able to know justice. This theme is repeated in scripture. Only through loss do we learn why we must care so deeply for one another. As we approach the holiday season, and take part in the festivities, I imagine that after the commercialized consumer frenzy dies down, most of us will discuss the “true meaning of Christmas” as per the now iconic Charlie Brown special.
“Unto us a child is born,” says Linus, proclaiming the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, born in a manger to his mother Mary. The stars, the quiet fire, everyone together in house… We seem to emulate the nativity even unknowingly as we gather with our loved ones. The gifts and lights? None of it matters. People are what matter, and still there’s a subtle irony to all this. While we embrace a story of a family without a home seeking refuge in what little can be offered after they are denied elsewhere, we don’t seem to see the same lesson the Hebrews were forced to learn long before the coming of Christ. In spite of our suffering, we have chosen to close our doors to those in need. Sometimes through how we vote, and other times very literally. It is fitting that the migrant crisis has reached its precipice in time for the holidays, and as I look around at the way we in this country seem to feel about our neighbors, I am disappointed.
Very easily, I could beat my Bible over your head with my politics, just as I’m sure there’s a collection of verses you’d love to throw back at me. If I knew wholeheartedly the will of God, I wouldn’t bother trying to convince anyone either way, but just as there is an unexplainable joy in the image of the nativity, there is an unavoidable horror in the image of screaming children and starving refugees. This idea that we have a moral duty to those in need, regardless of its convenience to us, finds its reprise in Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”
I do not mean to sow guilt, but instead thoughtfulness. What good is the “true meaning of Christmas” if it does not stir us to act?