Opinion

Embracing the work of Christmas

A Nativity creche shows the Christmas manger scene. Photo courtesy of Pxhere/Creative Commons

(RNS) — Across the globe, from small communities in southern India to the splendor of the Vatican in Rome to homes across Oregon, people will gather Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. It is a joyful time. Families come together, churches fill up, gifts are exchanged and children can hardly contain themselves as they await Santa in his many forms — Father Christmas, St. Nicholas, Père Noël and others.

For Christians, Christmas is also a time for engaged reflection.

Howard Thurman, the theologian, author and civil rights leader, wrote a beautiful poem called “The Work of Christmas” that can help move American Christians from the commercialism of Christmas and into the heart of Jesus’ message for the world:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

Faith is work, after all.

Through the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian New Testament, those who follow Jesus are given a vision of the world that directly contrasts with the world we live in. For all that is good with the world, we also live in a time of unparalleled crisis. In times of crisis, God calls us into a partnership to find solutions.

The real work of the Christmas season begins once all the decorations have been put away. Photo by Derek Thomson/Creative Commons

Many of the issues that confront us today, such as greed and oppression, are issues the Hebrew prophets and Jesus would have recognized. What is different for this time? The scale of what confronts us. From the reality of human-caused climate change and the implications that brings for the future of all creation, to the growing threat of nuclear conflict, to increasing economic inequality. Crisis greets us whether or not it is a holiday.

Small children opening gifts under the tree this year, regardless of where they live, face the genuine threat that climate change will, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported this past October, produce a future of suffering that will fall hardest on those Jesus called the “least of these.” Still, all of humanity will be impacted. The chaos caused by the gathering storm increases the risk of world war, terrorism, hunger and poverty, and it will further divide people along regional and economic lines.

Religion, which is too often used to divide, can be a tool to inspire the world to action. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was said to be “perplexed” when the angel Gabriel informed her that she was carrying the son of God, and the hope of a broken people. Her first response is understandable but her second response is remarkable. Like Moses and others called by God to great tasks, Mary sets aside fear and responds: “Here I am.”

This Christmas we live in the shadow of conflict. Historians tell us the United States has not been this divided since the period before the Civil War. The world itself is in peril. At best, our government stumbles in the face of complexity; at worst, we lash out in misdirected anger fueled by racism and xenophobia as we separate children from parents and tear gas others, refugee families not unlike Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

Our answer to all this must equal Mary’s: Here we are!

At the start of the Gospel of John, we are told: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

There is darkness today, to be sure. That darkness comes in many forms. The light of God’s people, known by different faiths and traditions, can still overcome it if we reunite this Christmas Day and each day after in common cause, as Jesus taught, to free the world from oppression and offer love in place of hate. If we genuinely honor Jesus and celebrate his birth, we cannot be the generation that allows all of creation to wither due to neglect or war. We must bring light and love to help creation grow and thrive.

Merry Christmas. Let’s get to work.

(The Rev. Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister, is the director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality, university chaplain and assistant professor of religious studies at Pacific University.)

About the author

Chuck Currie

58 Comments

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  • The angel Gabriel? Get real. No such thing and never was. To wit:

    “To believe in the existence of angels.”

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/devils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hittites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No “pretty/ugly wingy thingies” ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as fairies and “tinker bells”. Modern devils are classified as the demons of the demented.

  • Perhaps during this season of “peace on earth and goodwill towards all” you can find it in your cold, rational heart to at least agree that Howard Thurman’s suggestions have some real merit to them, regardless of the source of their inspiration:

    To find the lost,
    To heal the broken,
    To feed the hungry,
    To release the prisoner,
    To rebuild the nations,
    To bring peace among people,
    To make music in the heart.

    Or, knowing you, perhaps not.

  • Unfortunately, Christianity, lslam and Judaism (and their mythical fairies) do not bring peace and goodwill to anyone.

  • And the Bill Gates Foundation, one of the largest charities in the world, is funded by two atheists, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

  • I was reading along until I hit:

    Small children opening gifts under the tree this year, regardless of where they live, face the genuine threat that climate change will, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported this past October, produce a future of suffering that will fall hardest on those Jesus called the “least of these.”

    Small children opening gifts under the tree this year, regardless of where they live, face the genuine threat that under the guise of a false interpretation of “climate change” politicians and their apparatchiks will impose draconian measures that reduce the entire world’s standard of living in return for …. nothing.

    Folks need to choose what they are experts in: theology or climate science.

    In common with an alarming percentage of United Church of Christ ministers, Chuck Currie can’t distinguish the two and makes a muck of both:

    https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/07/04/united-church-christ-approves-emergency-resolution-climate-change/pgzKhYbm3UEyJcxA21GPAI/story.html

  • The blessedness of Christmas is the “Incarnation” of Yahweh being born as Christ the Man/God. The Virgin Mary who Yahweh prepared her womb to accept him by the act of the “Immaculate Conception’ when the original sin was removed from Mary’s mother St. Ann so Mary could be born without the stain of the original sin
    Yahweh became Christ so he could walk among men as a brother. 33 years later Christ performs the ultimate Sacrifice. He sacrifices the son -himself to the father- himself. Yahweh, Christ and the Holy Spirit. the Holy Trinity.
    This sacrifice was asked of Abraham by Yahweh to sacrifice his son. a promise Yahweh himself fulfilled through Christ.

  • You brought up a good point. How many did not answer “here I am” because they were never told who was calling their name in the middle of the night. This should be a new Christmas tradition. Thank you.

  • And some final words from Thomas Jefferson, not
    a contemporary NT scholar, but indeed a very intelligent man:

    “And the day will come, when the
    mystical generation of Jesus,
    by the Supreme Being as His Father,
    in the womb of a virgin, will be
    classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva
    in the brain of Jupiter.”

    — Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

    Letter to John Adams, from Monticello, April 11, 1823.

  • Just curious. It’s been over 240 years now, and Tommy Jefferson’s cutesy prophecy STILL ain’t come to pass. Not even close.

    So, when do you think Jefferson’s words will actually come true? (As for me, I don’t see it happening. Ever.)

  • Because you believe God exists. That simple belief, even if stated by a peaceful person, is still a declaration of war against Atheism itself.

  • There are plenty of folks from all religious faiths who are expert in both. Hopefully you have no grandchildren to reap your folly!

  • Wait, what? THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT. According to Luke 1:26-38, “Mary sets aside fear and responds: ‘Here I am’ [and so] this Christmas [as] we live in the shadow of conflict … our answer to all this must equal Mary’s: Here we are”?! Dare to compare:

    (1) In so many words, “Here I am”, is Mary’s trusting obedience to “the angel … sa[ying] to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you [though still “a virgin”] and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child [to be named Jesus] shall be called the Son of God.”

    (2) How on earth and in heaven, then, “in the shadow of conflict”, can, in so many words, “Here I am”, be “our answer to all “the angel … [is] sa[ying] to [Mary], ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you [though still “a virgin”] and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child [to be named Jesus] shall be called the Son of God'”?!

    WEIRD & LUDICRUOUS.

    Chuck Currie, you may be a “Rev.” but you sure don’t know your bible!

  • Oh hi there Missus MessPit! Just wanna say hi to the lucky Masser MessPit, but where did he go? Where else, at The MessPits for XMess?

  • Can’t say, “No such thing and never was”, though, about these for-real, #MeToo heroes of yours:

    Neil deGrasse Tyson
    David Silverman
    Lawrence Krauss
    Al Franken

  • I have not read that and it took me a moment to realize that Thomas Jefferson was late by over 1 thousand 400 years, and on top of it he was being extremely kind to those who would disparage Christ. You must have heard of Nicolas Donin and the “Disputation of Paris” also known as “The Trial of the Talmud” held in Paris in 1240 AD bringing 35 charges of blasphemy. If you have not you should look it up. Christ has stood the test of time.

  • The Great Kibosh of All Religions:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of
    Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism,
    Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings
    (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a
    religion.

    e.g.
    Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth
    century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its
    later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today
    (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his
    mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • Religion includes facts, myth, Faith, legends. It encompasses the full range of human mind and spirit. Out of religion came civilization and the Sciences. The only proof needed in religion is that It is part of our lives. . This may help.
    God was “invented”; for those who do not believe in God
    God was “discovered”; for those who believe in God
    Either way, Invented or discovered God is essential for mankind.

  • God is essential for mankind? Give us a break!!! Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have no God and they are doing quite well.

  • They are late in the game. My comment refers to the fact that out of religion civilization was born and so were the sciences. Man’s spiritual evolution is connected to the concept of God. as in Nara-Narayanan (eternal soul and Immortal God are friends & partners forever)

  • Civilization evolved from chimps et.al. Religion had nothing to do with it. Might want to read the books,

    A Short History of Nearly Everything, Paperback – September 14, 2004
    by Bill Bryson

    A Crack in Creation:Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution
    by Jennifer A. Doudna (author), Samuel H. Sternberg (author)

    Introducing Epigenetics: A Graphic Guide (…)
    by Cath Ennis (author

  • Interesting to read an Atheist approach to life. Not my forte. I believe in God. I was speaking of human civilization. Humans are not connected to the Chimpanzee. Let me make that clear. In the evolution of man we go back to the neanderthal or the Cro Magnun neither are related to the Chimpanzee.

  • That is true. But that is also a stupid retort because you didn’t put up a quote by someone stating the flat earthers would eventually fade away in the future. You did however quote Jefferson as having said that Christianity would fade away in the future and my on topic point is that has not yet occurred. You run around grasping at straws. Give it up and move on.

  • Our DNA tells the story.

    “In its 4.6 billion years circling the sun, the Earth has harbored an increasing diversity of life forms:

    for the last 3.6 billion years, simple cells (prokaryotes);

    for the last 3.4 billion years, cyanobacteria performing photosynthesis;

    for the last 2 billion years, complex cells (eukaryotes);

    for the last 1 billion years, multicellular life;

    for the last 600 million years, simple animals;

    for the last 550 million years, bilaterians, animals with a front and a back;

    for the last 500 million years, fish and proto-amphibians;

    for the last 475 million years, land plants;

    for the last 400 million years, insects and seeds;

    for the last 360 million years, amphibians;

    for the last 300 million years, reptiles;

    for the last 200 million years, mammals;

    for the last 150 million years, birds;

    for the last 130 million years, flowers;

    for the last 60 million years, the primates,

    for the last 20 million years, the family Hominidae (great apes);

    for the last 2.5 million years, the genus Homo (human predecessors);

    for the last 200,000 years, anatomically modern humans.

    Periodic extinctions have temporarily reduced diversity, eliminating:

    2.4 billion years ago, many obligate anaerobes, in the oxygen catastrophe;

    252 million years ago, the trilobites, in the Permian–Triassic extinction event;

    66 million years ago, the pterosaurs and nonavian dinosaurs, in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.”

  • “Thirty-four percent of Americans surveyed said they were atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular,” according to the American Family Survey (2017)” The fade is well on its way!!

  • Bioinformatician Bernhard Haubold of the Max Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology provides this explanation:

    “Humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and their extinct ancestors form a family of organisms known as the Hominidae. Researchers generally agree that among the living animals in this group, humans are most closely related to chimpanzees, judging from comparisons of anatomy and genetics.”

  • Thomas now knows the generation of Jesus, unlike you. Jefferson also had the wisdom to make the right choice for the benefit of all, even though he did not believe.

  • God already told the story that the earth is over 4 billion years old, you just can’t follow sound instruction.

  • Reason agrees with you that Tom is over 2000 years old. Whatever you guys are smoking, is working for you.

  • There are many gods and many creation stories. I’ll assume you’re referring to the Jewish account in Genesis. That account says nothing about the age of the Earth. It is also scientifically inaccurate – hence the conclusion that it’s man-made.

  • I agree. The Old Testament is not as clear as Hinduism what a single day really means. but I doubt it meant 24 hours.

  • If there were many gods, there would be many habitable worlds. How many habitable worlds have you found. All gods are jealous, including the real one; this is why there is only one God. It’s too bad that you can’t keep Jesus on your mind long enough for the Spirit to teach you more. Jesus says “Lo, I come in the volume of the book written of me” We know you have searched long and hard, now search yourself long and hard and you will find Him, in you. Merry Christmas.

  • You assume there is a god and he is the god of the bible. I don’t. Actually I was pulled into Jehovah’s Witnesses as a teenager and I gave it a spin and found it wanting. Have a holly jolly Christmas.

  • Not nececelery. Sometimes we can get energy out from garbage in but that begs the question of was it really garbage one supposes???

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