Pastor’s Column: The Power of Christmas in Our Pluralistic and Sometimes Dark World
A former pseudo-Buddhist refugee-turned-Pastor reflects on how the Incarnation of Jesus allows her to see the darkness in our world as redeemable.
I love the Christmas season because the birth of Jesus is one of the most profound moments in the biblical narrative that can teach us significant truths about the nature of God and encourage us in times of darkness. These days, there seems plenty of darkness to go around as tragic headlines follow one after the other. The shootings in Paris as well as the continuing plight of Syrian refugees seeking to escape civil war have touched the hearts of many around the world, and closer to home, the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark and injuries sustained by five protesters amidst threats by white supremacists have rippled outrage, confusion, anger and fear throughout the cities. What can we say as churches in the face of these situations?
Dark and troubling situations like these aren’t unfamiliar to me. When I was three years old, after American troops withdrew from Vietnam, my parents sold all their belongings and crammed our family onto a small fishing boat to flee North Vietnam. Managing to duck starvation, dehydration, pirates, storms and sinking in our hole-riddled boat, we made our way across the South China Sea and eventually to a refugee camp in Hong Kong.
We arrived in the United States in the early eighties with little more than the clothes on our back, and the woman who was to assist us in resettling instead abandoned us in a house with other refugees. Fortunately, social services and a United Methodist church came to our aid. This church was my first exposure to the Christian faith. Sadly, because of the language barrier, the only thing that stuck with me from the two years we spent at the church were the flannelgraph boards they used; that, and an enduring fondness my family has for the church.
The Brokenness of the World
Because of my background, I’ve spent most of my life grappling with how much bad there seemed to be in the world. I grew up lonely, isolated, and marginalized because of my status as a foreigner and everywhere I looked, all I saw was a world that was utterly broken. War, female infanticide, unrelenting poverty, racism, sex trafficking, bullies, gossip, hypocrisy, unwarranted mass incarceration, genocide–it was all bad, and it was all caused by people.
Before I was ever a Christian, I used to lie in bed praying for world peace and wonder where was God when the world clearly needed him. Now, as a pastor, I know that even Christians who have faithfully followed Christ for years still ask the question of where God is in all this. The most powerful answer I’ve ever found is the story of the Incarnation, the Christmas story.
The Christmas story is about God doing the most amazing thing I’d ever thought a deity could do: he became one of us. The Incarnation is the reason that I became a Christian, and why, even after all my years wrestling with cynicism, I look at humanity and instead of seeing a sick mess, I’m able to see something beautiful and redeemable.
Perhaps this passage and these exhortations might be something helpful to you this season, as your church celebrates and shares the Christmas story, and particularly for those who are searching for God in the midst of pain and turmoil.
Philippians 2:5-8 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
- See how Christ didn’t turn up his nose at us messed up human beings, but instead chose to become human like us. Let us not reject ourselves or others.
- See how Christ didn’t use his authority and power to victimize us, he set them aside to walk in solidarity with us. Let us believe in the profound goodness of a God who walks with us.
- See how Christ didn’t snub the marginalized or under-resourced, he included and empowered us. Let us receive a sense of dignity and give to others a sense of dignity.
- See how Christ didn’t reject us in our weakness, he trusted us by making himself vulnerable to us as an infant. Let us receive the humility of Christ through his incredible act of trust.
- See how Christ didn’t accept our broken system that punishes us with pain and death, he defied our broken system with love and obedience. Let us obey God for the good of others as Christ did for us.