Yesterday on Capitol Hill, we held the last Faithful Budget prayer vigil of the year. Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, led the vigil. Please read the compelling Christmas reflection he offered yesterday. It is a theological reflection on the meaning of the incarnation for the engagement of Christians in poverty and justice issues.
Grace and Peace,
Director, National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative
(Delivered at the Faithful Budget Prayer Vigil on Capitol Hill – December 13, 2011)
I realize that we are an interfaith campaign, but I thought it might be appropriate if I said a brief word about the Christian holiday of Christmas, and why I believe it compels Christians to be here for this vigil.
What Christians confess and celebrate in this season is that “God [the Word] became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). The implications of this are so staggering that I fear we, Christians, often miss them. If we look for God only in spiritual things, if we speak about God’s presence as something that is only in our hearts, if we teach that God’s promise has only to do with heaven, then we may overlook God altogether. Because the God we know and worship was born in a cave where animals were kept—the child of poor, Jewish peasants—threatened by a king who saw in him the seed of political revolution (Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 2:1-18). “Christmas,” writes theologian Shirley Guthrie, “is the story of the radical invasion of God into the kind of real world where we live all year long—a world where there is political unrest and injustice, poverty, hatred, jealousy, and both the fear and longing that things could be different.”
Let me say it another way. The Christian doctrine of incarnation—that God became flesh—affirms that life in this world, though distorted by sin, is supremely precious to the Creator. In the Christ child, Christians see the purpose of God who has drawn near that humanity (all creation!) may have abundant life (John 10:10)—not just in another realm, but here and now.
That’s why a religion that celebrates incarnation cannot remain aloof from political oppression or economic injustice or environmental destruction. God, Christians believe, became flesh, the ultimate act of solidarity with this world in all its political, economic, and ecological messiness. And that’s why the church, as the primary instrument of God’s purpose for Christians, is called to promote social transformation toward the day when God’s will for abundant life is realized on earth as it is in heaven.
Theologically speaking, re-enactments of the Nativity should not take place inside our sanctuaries, but outside the doors of the church, in the midst of the everyday world where “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). To put it simply and bluntly: A church that is indifferent to worldly struggles, indifferent to the plight of the poor, is following its own agenda, not God’s.