Recently, a friend recounted all of the activities ahead of her to get ready for the Christmas season: shopping, baking, decorating, getting cards out and spending extra hours at the food pantry.
As I was about to offer my sympathy for the jampacked to-do list, she offered, “I actually welcome all this work as it allows me to escape all the craziness in the world. I just do not know what I can count on anymore.”
Another friend, generally irrepressibly upbeat, wrote a desolate message. He had retired early to devote the past 10-plus years to educating himself and others about climate warming and the actions that can be taken.
A recent U.N. report has just been released and projects a bleak scenario if the global community does not accelerate our responses. On its heel, a statement from a high-level Church official declares that climate change is important but not urgent. Futility and powerlessness underlined his every sentence.
Christmas offers a great reason and opportunity to turn toward festive activities: stringing up lights that twinkle brightly, filling our homes with the smell of spices, singing the angels’ chorus and warming our hearts with rich memories from those handmade ornaments.
These are perfect antidotes to the dreary gray of winter, the cutting wind and the disappointment in a world that lurches from crises to bigger crises, mean words to condemnations and indifference to exploitation.
But the last thing that Christmas should invite is escape from the world. It would be ironic, wouldn’t it, as Christmas celebrates Christ coming into the world. Not only does God enter into our world, God does it specifically for us: “For unto you, a savior is born.”
“You” is all of us, as Jesus was so lowborn that not one of us can think we lack the privileges to take our place in His circle. There is also no character screening: No visitors need to submit a moral history. Jesus’ world, like ours, had its share of strife. Yet, emphatically, the birth of Christ brings glad tidings!
What glad tidings? Clearly, a scan of the nightly news provides evidence that the glad tidings do not eliminate darkness, suffering, violence, exploitation. The glad tidings point to a light in the darkness that shows the path to the kingdom of God here and now. This kingdom is built not just with God’s love, but ours also.
The essence of Christmas is, as this popular quote from St. Athanasius reminds us, “He became what we are that he might make us what he is.”
God enlists and relies on us, with all our failings, in this kingdom project: us as both bricks and bricklayers. God works with us, for us, in us, through us and multiplies our efforts. God sees us with divine sight that sparkles delight, consolation, pride and beckoning.
We may let fear shrink us into small beings, but we know deep down that we are made for more than fear’s captive; we are made for and by God: holy and beloved.
Our imagination will not grasp the way that God works; our impatience may demand numbers and results; our faith may falter against the hardness of life. Christmas is the call to yield those thoughts to the wonder, largeness, consolation and power of God with us.
Christmas gives proof that God claims us and casts His lot with and in us. God believes in us. There is no need for escape, for despair. Let us not give up on ourselves, on each other.
Woo is distinguished president’s fellow for global development at Purdue University and served as CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services from 2012 to 2016.
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