Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas 2017

It's Christmas 2017 and there's still no room at the hotel.

Rohingya refugee children

Central American refugees

Syrian refugee children

Somali refugee children

Two boys orphaned by the opioid epidemic in the USA in a foster home.

And a shocking image of the growing cholera epidemic and famine in Yemen where the civilian population is being deliberately starved in a cruel war between Saudi Arabia and Iran for supremacy in the Middle East.  The USA sides with Saudi Arabia in this war and is actively assisting them with military hardware and intelligence.

The massive global refugee crisis continues; perhaps a foretaste of what is to come,  a world where we are all refugees some day.  And the response of American Christians, especially white ones, is to build a wall between us and the world.  Instead of remembering that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for Christ Himself, we now loudly and boastfully say the Pharisee's prayer, "I thank Thee that I am not as other men are ..."  We white Christians in the USA embraced the white at the expense of the Christian.  We worship a golden calf of wealth and power, and worse, we build altars to a Moloch of national identity and racial supremacism.    Above is a glimpse of the legions we send through the fire to please those idols.  In our arrogance, we somehow believe that we can arrange events so as to compel God to return and end the world.

We forgot Christ's answer to rich young man to sell all that he has, give the profits to the poor, take up his cross and follow Him.  We forgot that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.   We forgot Christ's own example when he washed the feet of his disciples like a household servant.  Above all, we forgot that all humankind is created male and female in God's image, and that we are all together a common family of humanity.  Our neighbors near and far, familiar and unfamiliar all have as legitimate a claim upon this world as we do.

We pursue a golden fever dream of empire, that somehow we must conquer or be conquered, that we bring peace, prosperity, and the Gospel to a benighted world when all we are really doing is just helping ourselves.   We imagine that we can lord it over a sullen frightened world and call that peace.  As we so delude ourselves, in our pride let us remember these lines from the Magnificat, the Song of Mary:

He has shown the strength of his arm,
   he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
   and the rich he has sent away empty.

Let us never forget that God came into the world as one of these; among the cast off, the despised, the inconvenient.  He was born on the run with a price on his head, the bastard child of a teenaged mother in a remote province of a vast empire.  He came not in power and dominion, but in weakness to overthrow those things and to set us free.

God's intentions are peace and good will as proclaimed in the angels' chorus in the Nativity narrative.  We should look for signs of God's good intentions toward us not in Biblical concordances, apocalyptic exegesis, or even in signs and wonders, but in basic acts of courageous decency in the face of death and destruction.

Doctors treating patients in underground clinics in Syria in the midst of a bloody civil war.

Doctors in Yemen doing the best that they can to care for their patients with what little they have.

We can see similar things daily in our own countries.   It is in these things both great and small that God's will is fulfilled and the designs of evil and death are frustrated.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem re-imagined as a 16th century Flemish town.  What mattered was not historical fidelity in those days, but the meaning of the story in the here and now; in this case, the 16th century Flanders where Bruegel and most of his audience lived.

Joseph and Mary in the snow

People registering for the census and the tax, a scene that must have been familiar to Bruegel in 16th century Flanders torn by religious and nationalist warfare.

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