It’s Christmas. I’m a pastor. So I’ve spent a lot of time this week studying and thinking about the meaning of Christmas, marveling at the mystery of just what it means for God to come to earth. Pastors do everything we can this time of year to remind people that Christmas means that God has chosen to be present and active in our world.
This year that's an uphill battle. Every time I open my web browser or turn on the TV, I'm reminded that God can seem awfully absent sometimes. This season, man’s inhumanity to man—and our inability to deal with it---is on full display. Today an innocent journalist is pleading for his life as a hostage in Yemen. 19 people were killed yesterday in a skirmish in Chechnya. Tragedies involving police officers and young black men in Ferguson, MO and New York City challenge our race-frazzled culture to make sense of right and wrong.
It seems like every year we mourn the gap between what Christmas promises and what we actually experience out in the real world. And every year we claim that the gap is wider, that the world has grown more violent and more indifferent.
Here's my theory this year. I don’t want to be too simplistic, but when you look at everything that’s going on, it all boils down to one thing. People are afraid. Red and yellow, black and white, Christian, Muslim, Jew—we’re afraid. We all crave the security of position and possession that seems just now to elude us. So we're scared.
And when we are afraid, one of the first casualties is our civility, our willingness to acknowledge our shared lot in life. We retreat to our own corners, to our own tribes, to our own places of safety and quickly fall into “us” vs. “them” mentalities. When we feel threatened, “we” have no problem articulating what “those people” don’t understand; what “they” aren’t willing to do; or what “they” would do if “we” let them.
Those kinds of conversations—the “they” conversations—happened at Thanksgiving dinner tables all over America last week, and they’ll happen at dinner tables tonight in Damascus and Jerusalem and Moscow and Grozny, Chechnya just as surely as they’ve happened in Ferguson, MO and Canton, GA.
All over the world, people are afraid. And every time fear overwhelms us “we” start to point the accusatory finger at "them." For the most part, I don't believe we hate "those people"—whoever "those people" are in our particular situation. I think we're just scared.
But here’s the thing. The ones we call “those people,” God calls “my people.”
This Sunday we’ll read the first words of Isaiah 40 together in worship: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1). And as we read them, just in case we quietly think that "my people" means “us” and not “them,” God goes on to give detailed instructions about the need to go to GREAT lengths to make sure that EVERYONE, ALL people, would see God in all God’s glory together (Isaiah 40:3-5).
ALL people are MY people to God.
Several hundred years later, when Christ is born, perhaps because we still hadn’t quite gotten it yet, God again goes to great lengths to make sure we understand that God is for ALL of us together.
In a field outside of Bethlehem, the angels filled the sky, the glory of the Lord surrounded a group of shepherds, and an angel spoke a message from God saying—and I’m paraphrasing—God is here; that’s good news for ALL people; don’t be afraid. (Luke 2:9-11).
Again, ALL people are MY people to God.
And now, several thousand years later, it appears we still haven’t quite gotten it yet.
So what are Christians supposed to do this Christmas? Here's a suggestion.
We should do what Isaiah says. We should prepare the way of the Lord (Isaiah 40:3). We should do what we can where we are to create favorable environments for the coming of Christ. How?
First, we should both speak and be comfort to God’s people who are suffering—“Comfort, Comfort my people, says your God.”
And then I would suggest one other thing. As we approach Christmas and gather around family tables, we should rigorously refuse to use “us” and “them” language or engage in “us” and “them” conversations. It's dangerous and does nothing to prepare the way for the coming of Christ at Christmas.
We shouldn’t slip into that kind of language ourselves, and we should have the courage to speak a word on God’s behalf whenever we hear someone else start talking about “they” or “them” or “those people.” We should be willing to speak up and say, “The ones you’re calling “those people” God calls “my people.”"
When prejudice—intended or not—is met with silence or indifference, the gospel loses. When fear goes unchallenged, nobody wins.
Speaking up when someone else is speaking out of fear isn't always easy. So if, like me, you’re hesitant to interject, let this Christmas reminder straight from the mouth of God's messenger encourage you.
God is here. That’s good news for everyone. Don’t be afraid.
ALL people are MY people to God.