COMMENTARY: Christmas story has troubling similarities to today’s world

There is a horror movie out this Christmas known as “Krampus.”

According to Wikipedia, “Krampus has its roots in Austro-Bavarian, German-speaking alpine folklore.” It is a horned, anthropomorphic figure who, during the Christmas season, brutally punishes children who have misbehaved.

This movie is not on my holiday must-see list, as I don’t have the stomach for horror movies in general, nor one about an evil side to Christmas in particular.

Christmas is about love from God that came down to earth with the intent to not punish but save us from our misbehaving.

I prefer a depiction of the baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by adoring shepherds and mysterious international visitors from the East. That’s a must-see story.

However, if you study both the Matthew and Luke Gospels, Christmas does have a very unpleasant side, one that is as current as today’s morning news.

The true facts of Christmas call us to respond to the Christ’s nativity in ways that go beyond seasonal giving to the poor, special worship in our churches and festive gatherings with friends and family.

Jesus was born into an oppressed people. The Jews were under the occupation of the Romans. His birth in Bethlehem (and not back home in Nazareth) had a lot to do with the Roman government wanting to ascertain just how much the Jews could be taxed through a mandatory census.

Still today, many of the world’s wealthy use their power and influence to oppress the poor and the powerless.

As I reflect on the Global Climate Summit in France, I am concerned about the many vulnerable tiny islands that stand to lose everything if global warming continues to rise.

Bishop Peggy Johnson by .

Bishop Peggy Johnson

It is clear that rich nations are oppressing poor ones by abusing the earth’s natural resources and by valuing profits over human existence.

Jesus’ birth ignited a string of events that led to the murder of numerous innocent babies at the hands of King Herod’s soldiers. The worst massacre of children in our own nation’s recent history occurred three years ago, on Dec. 14, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Yet, still I look around the world today and see the slaughter of innocents in France, in our cities’ streets, in San Bernardino, Calif., even in houses of worship.

The carnage is borne of our obsession with power, violence, racism and fear.

Jesus spent his early years of life as a refugee in Egypt, escaping from an oppressive government.

Luckily the people of Egypt allowed the holy family to live among them. They were not like the Bethlehem innkeepers who had no room. I look around the world today and see millions of refugees fleeing from Syria and other countries where danger and intolerable conditions have forced them into other equally intolerable conditions.

Some of the wealthiest countries on our planet say there is “no room in the inn.”

The Christmas story has many troubling similarities to our world today.

Many right now are living a real horror story, as they face Christmas with their homes destroyed by war and natural disasters and with empty seats at tables where loved ones are absent because of senseless gun violence.

Many live in deplorable conditions in refugee camps because there are limits to the generosity of their fellow humans, including those who have resources to help but fear they might be entertaining terrorists rather than angels or that the cost may be too much of a burden.

Christ is in the faces of all those in need whom we see and don’t see. We are called to alleviate human suffering, of course; but more than that, we need to speak out for responsible use of our world’s resources.

We must work for peacemaking that teaches tolerance and problem-solving through diplomacy.

And we should encourage our nation to be the immigrant-welcoming nation we are well-positioned to be.

It is key to our greatness and our soul as a nation— past, present and future.

I believe that if we do as Jesus would do, then we are truly honoring the Christ child that we call our Savior and Lord.

Like the shepherds, wise men and all disciples, we are called to spread, through word and deed, the great news of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection for our salvation.

When we do, we are telling a timeless story that can save a world mired in sin and suffering and thus, transform it from horror to hope.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since 2008, Bishop Peggy A. Johnson has led the nearly 900 churches in the Philadelphia Area, comprised of the Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conferences.

She said the United Methodist Church works ecumenically to help refugees around the world through Church World Service, the ministry arm of the National Council of Churches of Christ. Learn more at http://cwsglobal.org/our-work/you-can-help-syrian-refugees.

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