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“No offense pastor, but Christmas is a secular holiday! It is all about consumption!” These were the words that I heard last week when I was talking to a Jewish friend about Fox news obsession with the War against Christmas. I tried to issue a defense, but it is increasingly hard in a materialistic society. What even makes it harder is when people who claim to follow Christ buy into the culture’s economic systems and proclaim them divine.
In the 19th century Dr. Robert Browning made the assertion, “Jesus Christ is free trade and free trade is Jesus Christ.” This caused a stir and was used quite liberally in missionaries opening trade routes in other countries. Many of us have spent a good part of the 20th century repudiating God’s role in any country’s political or economic domination.
Last week Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council’s assertion that Jesus was some sort of Free Market Capitalist must be rejected stringently when accompanied by even an elementary reading of our Holy Texts. To call Tony a fool would be giving him the benefit of the doubt. He is however siding himself with those corrupt people that Isaiah and later Jesus would come to rail against during the beginning of his ministry.
It would be hard to imagine the Jesus who was taught by his mother Mary extolling the brilliance of obtaining wealth through mortgage backed securities. All we need to do is listen to this young woman’s song, while Jesus was in her womb, to get an insight into his upbringing.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
For he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from this day all generations will call me blessed;
For the mighty one has done great things to me, and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts;
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the holy;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed forever.
Aside from an outspoken mother with radical tendencies toward the poor, it is almost impossible to ignore that the Isaiah text that is cleverly inserted during this time of advent equates salvation with God’s poor. Often in the holy texts our salvation is intertwined with those who are poorest in our society. For those who wish to ignore these admonitions to assuage their guilt about having material wealth will be found wanting on the judgment day. It is well past time in an economic catastrophe caused by greed, fraud and corruption to call out our societal immorality. Two unpaid wars and unlimited borrowing have left us all wondering the future.
As Martin Luther King Jr. aptly points out all people are connected by an inescapable web of mutuality. This means more than that ignoring the poor is wrong, it tells us that the poor are integral to our own salvations as humans through Jesus Christ.
Last week I was asked by someone, “How do you really have anything to do with the poor?” I paused for perhaps the first time in my ministry and life. Have no doubt I can answer the question, but at this point in my life it comes a lot less readily.
Isaiah is the proclamation of hope to those who society ignores. It is the proclamation of salvation and sustenance for those who are without. It is the same message that is echoed by a poor 16-year old single mother. It is also the message that Jesus will proclaim at the beginning of his ministry on earth.
To ignore the marginalized is to ignore the main path to our own salvation. There is no salvation in our community unless the poor are seen as equals and their needs are as important as every one of ours. This is the hope in Advent. It is the hope that a little child will turn all of society upside down and turn over our tables so that we might see the world as it truly is and how it truly could be.
I am happy to say that you will not find a free market Jesus laying in a manger because his parents were too poor for a bed. You will find one who transcends all of our systems and breaks them so that more and more of us will find salvation.
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