The first Christmas was celebrated in poverty. A cave-stable-barn, a man and a woman, now a child, a star shines even more brightly, now shepherds, now wise men, refugees, exiles, aliens.
Christmas is still celebrated in poverty today. Sure, the holiday is celebrated in cathedrals and Macy's, but Christmas is also celebrated by some of the world's loneliest who are locked away in nursing homes and the hungriest who make their homes in garbage villages. The memory of Jesus and hope that comes from his Presence - Christmas - means something to folks who are lost, oppressed, downtrodden, and forgotten.
For many folks (despite the anti-materialistic sermonizing you will hopefully hear..."Jesus, not stuff, provides the reason for the season"), the Christmas celebration provides a reminder to reach out to and care generously for the poor. Choirs sing in hospitals and people send shoeboxes of toys and school supplies to children who have very little. One of my highlights from growing up was our annual family tradition of taking food to the inner-city mission around Christmas-time.
This is a beautiful part of the story. But it's not the whole story.
People go into debt buying Christmas gifts. And although more and more Americans intend to spend less on Christmas this year, we will probably still spend over $400 billion dollars on gifts before the year is out. And here's the thing...
We spend this money, year after year, season after season and we're trapped. This cycle can't stop. Try it. Skip Christmas. Your family probably won't understand. People would be hurt, feel unloved. And we can chalk this up to petty materialism (and some of it probably is), but we are horrible as a society at communicating meaningful love to our families and friends. The Christmas season helps even our most inept members connect.
This is where God's presence exposes the status quo. The hamster wheel gets broken. Our habitual reliance on gifts and seasons for love and meaning comes crashing to a halt. We don't need the gold and incense and myrrh. They're great, but they're no substitute for the Presence.
And this Presence shows up among the poor. And wealth does trickle down. Gold and incense and myrrh appear in a manger (or a home, depending on when the wise guys showed up), but they're not what's important. God has chosen to spend Christmas with the poor. So, maybe they need us. Maybe they need us to buy them warm clothes and join the Advent Conspiracy. Maybe they need us. But we need them, especially around Christmas. What would it look like to seek God among the poor during the Christmas season?
Blessed are the poor, because they get the Presence.