the disturbing, poor baby Jesus

Pop Quiz!  This is a question from a test I recently gave my Peace and Justice students.  See if you can get it right!

The answer will be at the end of this post, in case you’re not really sure.

Advent is a season of waiting. This year, I keep asking God what I’m waiting for.  Do I need some huge conversion in my life? Do I need a new dose of hope or energy?

Maybe my anticipation is broader than my inner life. It probably is. I think it may actually have to do with economics.

I am disturbed and disoriented by the ever widening-canyons between the rich and the poor.  Some people I know are damaged by the economic earthquakes.  They can’t feed their families. They wander around seeking a safe place to sleep.  Some of my students can’t afford school supplies, books, and school uniforms.  And, less locally, I still pray for the beautiful people I met when I visited Namibia in 2002 who would walk miles to fetch their water, cook meals over an open fire, and live without electricity.  It’s no secret that this is how the majority of our world lives.

Awareness about economic injustice has messed me up.  Certainly, no one should ever have to worry about making it to their next birthday simply because they don’t have what they need to keep living.  When others have more than enough and continue to consume, it’s even more ridiculous. Seriously, it makes me so mad that it’s hard for me to be kind.

I am even more disturbed when I read the Christmas story in the bible and let it challenge me.  It seems like if we really take this gospel seriously, we have a lot of culture changing to do.  How can we change our habits from shopping and partying to being and praying? During advent, how can enter into the cheer of the season and go to parties, but yet fast in preparation?  I don’t know, but I know that every year I wrestle with my holiday habits.  I usually end up making a few crafts, giving a few donations, and then buying simple gifts for my immediate family. It never feels like it’s quite right, but it probably is okay.

As I struggle, I remain grateful that amazing Christians have figured out some ways to celebrate Christmas the gospel way and lead the rest of us, who are lost and disturbed.   I am encouraged and energized by the things that others have organized and how they continue to challenge the systems through efforts of compassion, generosity and community.  Here’s an example.  This is my favorite video of the week:

When I showed that video to my students they said “Sister, that’s raw.” (That’s a very good thing.) When I asked them what acts of generosity and service they were planning to do during Christmas break some of them had trouble coming up with an answer.  It seems to me that although it’s attractive to celebrate Christmas counter-culturally, it’s really hard to break our habits.

This advent, may God give us the blessings of wisdom and knowledge to understand the ways that our economic systems are unjust.  May God give us the graces and the courage we need to challenge the economic oppression. Dear Baby Jesus, help us to be enlightened about how to say “yes” to You and “no” to the rich King Herod, in our own ways and our own time. Amen.

Oh, and the answer to the quiz is TRUE in case you still weren’t sure!

P.S.  May we also praise God with joy for the Christians who continue to spread the gospel message, even if they seem irreverent as they do it.  This is my 2nd favorite video of the week, fellow Catholic and satirist Stephen Colbert reminding us how Jesus hung out with tax collectors:

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