He Makes Sense

Jesse Jackson, love him or hate him, he makes sense here:

Messiah’s message lost in shuffle

Early returns on Christmas are up, we are told. Are these reports on an increase in church attendance? Or a decline in the numbers of homeless? The spread of peace in the world? No, the reports are about sales, better than last year, particularly in the high-end luxury stores. Christmas — the mass celebrating the birth of Christ — is the biggest shopping season of the year.

But of course, that’s not what the Christmas story is about. Nor is it about the right’s newest goofy campaign — the hyped up ”war on Christmas.” The ideologues over at Fox News have decided that to save Christmas, we’ve got to insist that stores advertise ”Christmas sales,” not holiday sales, and that cards wish people a ”merry Christmas,” not a happy holiday. Behind their moralizing, these folks are trying to use Christmas for petty political purposes. But that’s not what the Christmas story is about either.

It’s about a couple — Mary and Joseph — forced by an oppressive government to leave their home to travel far to be counted in the census. They were homeless in a strange land. Christmas is the story of a child born in a cow’s barn and placed in a manger, a makeshift crib. This was a working barn. Jesus had straw for a floor, fouled by the animals. The innkeeper had no room for the strange couple. If he had understood who the baby was, he would have offered them his bed.

The measure of Christmas can’t be about Christmas cards or holiday cards, for Mary and Joseph had no address. It isn’t about buying and selling things. Yes, wise men followed the star and brought gifts to the poor child. But their wisdom was not in the value of their gifts, but in their ability to see what the innkeeper missed: the power of the infant asleep in a wooden manger. The Christmas story instructs us to treasure every child, for even the poorest child of a homeless couple has limitless potential.

Unlike the reports on the business page, the reports on the moral page are grim. Poverty is up in this country — more than 30 million now in poverty. Homelessness is up, with mayors reporting record numbers seeking shelter each night. More people go without health care for lack of insurance — more than 45 million Americans now. The survivors of Katrina are being abandoned once more.

Reports from the values page are also pretty dismal as well. Inequality is at record levels, yet the administration insists on cutting taxes on the wealthy, while opposing any increase in the minimum wage. College tuition is soaring, but Congress voted to cut student loans to help pay for those top-end tax breaks.

What is Christmas about? It is about an oppressed people praying for a Messiah, a mighty warrior who would conquer their oppressors. The expectation grew so high that even Herod grew uneasy. But when the Messiah came, he came as the prince of peace, not of war. He taught love and hope and charity, not violence and vengeance. He was the greatest liberator of them all, but he carried no arms and provisioned no army. His army would be the legions of the faithful.

But this year, the reports from the peace page are also grim. Our soldiers are in armed occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Our cities are girded against the threat of terrorist attack. We possess the mightiest military that the world has ever known, but we are more insecure than ever. We turn our backs on the genocide taking place in Darfur. The fake moralists howl about the labels on our store sales, not the hunger of the poor.

A mass for Christ is not about shopping, whatever the name. Christmas should celebrate family and community. It should remind us to measure ourselves by how we treat the ”least of these.” Today in America, millions of poor children head to school not ready to learn. They suffer from malnutrition, from inadequate health care, from mean streets and broken homes. One of five children is raised in poverty. We are failing the standard he taught us.

Let us all remember the true spirit of Christmas this year. Protect the babies in the dawn of life. Care for the elderly in the dusk of life. Nurture the sick; shelter the homeless. Stop for the stranger on the Jericho Road. Work for the promise of peace. Surely that is what Jesus would want under his tree. Merry Christmas everyone.


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