DH Update 4, Fourth week of Advent, 2022
Wed. December 20, 2022
Wednesday Meditation (Isaiah 7:13,14)
Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
Wearying mortals and God! This phrase describes a lot about the way humanity functions. Indeed, the world has become so dense and overwhelming that many people are finding it difficult to be positive. Just imagine a situation in Ukraine, Yemen and Gaza. With constant bombardments, outages of electricity, shortages of water and food, not to mention psychological trauma of living in fear everyday. What have mere mortals done that these populaces are put under such unbearable conditions?
This injustice of humanity wearies God, too, according to Isaiah. Terrors and attacks against God’s people are the very things that concern God, too. In these horrifying conditions, God chooses to give a sign. The young woman bearing a son is not simply a sign given in the long past, but it still is a sign that brings the light into darkness. It is more than a ray of hope. It is the very life for all who have been seeking relief from the drudgery of life.
Throughout history, we have hung onto this one hope. It is not the fully realized hope. Yet we know this hope is alive and well. It has not died. It is not something we wait for any longer. This hope is the living hope, anchoring us to the true Life that lifts us out of our despair.
What can the birth of this child do for the world? Our world will not immediately change. The people who are in poverty, under oppression and in pain will continue to suffer. Sure, there are those who claim that giving their lives to Jesus changed them totally. As for the rest of others, they can neither see nor experience such wonders of rebirth. Yet, this birth of a child gives us hope. It is not just a desire that may never be made ours in this lifetime. Rather it is the very reason for existing as part of humanity today. With the birth of Immanuel, everyone who hears of him are reminded and challenged to live a life that is based on love. This love is unlike our ways of loving. This love is based on turning the other cheek, giving a jacket also when we are asked to give a shirt, and laying one’s own life down so that others may live in this life of love. With the birth of the Christ child weariness of both God and humanity are lifted.
I have been thinking about various traditional activities that used to bring joy of Christmas to people. In the 1960s and the early 1970s, small business owners used to give gifts to their employees along with turkeys. Gifts in some cases were year-end bonuses. Hardly ever have we heard anyone being laid off just prior to Christmas. Another Christmas tradition was for churches to deliver Christmas hampers to people in need. Of course, we found out that some needy families ended up with hampers from three or more churches, but no one seemed to mind. We brought toys to the church for the needy, put our changes generously into the Salvation Army buckets, and gave more wherever people were collecting for others. In small ways, looking after each other was a tradition everyone seemed to be part of and were very glad to participate. Most of us were not rich, but we cared. Yes, there were a few scrooges, but they were not that nasty.
Some things began changing. I remember distinctly how the presidential candidate Mr. Reagan began talking about the Welfare Queen. By then, there were signs already in our society that things were not going well. With many union strikes, people began turning against workers’ unions for being greedy. What these symptoms do not tell us clearly was the fact that slowly our understanding of how to care for one another has been eroding. We became more divided from one another.
I did not realize how our world began changing until I began researching ways to build strong communities. Many people began noticing how our ways of caring as communities disappeared as universities and governments became involved in managing social problems with experts. By insisting only the experts could provide proper care for each person’s needs, be they psychological, social, and medical, they recreated our systems of care to depend on specialized people. The end result of this introduction of care by experts who know what they are doing versus regular people who care without expertises is to separate people from one another. When we could hop over to neighbours and spend hours, we now need experts to organize us for many social and psychological needs. What used to take talks with friends now require interventions by professionals like psychologists and psychiatrists. Instead of neighbours coaching our kids, we need experienced coaches for our children’s sports. Sharing foods with needy people requires inspections of our kitchens by health departments.
Christmas used to be a natural time to gather and rejoice. Churches used to open their doors and invite everyone for Christmas dinners. Now even Christmas dinners are specialized. The well to do people volunteer and serve Christmas dinners to the needy rather than sharing together. These dinners for the needy must meet stringent requirements. On giving canned goods, if cans are dented or the best before date is passed, they cannot be shared. For Christmas donations, many people are checking the rankings for the list of most efficient organizations in charity deliveries. We do everything as individuals. We no longer feel part of a community where we have our lives fulfilled.
In other words, we no longer know how to be a community. We have become individuals who meet personal needs for Christmas joys only with our families or alone. We retreat into our own little circles of people, if we are fortunate enough to have one. The good news of God in the birth of Christ is understood as directed to individuals, rather than to a group of people. It is all about “I,” not “us.” We no longer understand how Christ’s birth is for all peoples and not just for me. God’s salvation was meant to be for the whole people of God, not just a few individuals.
Our traditions used to remind us of the importance of the whole, not just how important the Gospel is for “me.” In a way we need to change this idea of “giving what we can to the needy” to “sharing together with everyone.” It saddened me again when I began reading from the newspapers about laying people off as Christmas began approaching. Apparently for many companies, this is a yearly routine to begin anew after Christmas in the new fiscal year. Instead of sharing joy, much anxieties and fears are given out. What is even more sad is that these companies are now telling their employees via emails to stop working. Some employees said that suddenly they could no longer log-in to do their work before they got the memo. This brokenness is most evident when year-end traditions are discarded.
Fifty and sixty years ago, one of the traditions was for communities to rise up and rally with those who faced terrible news at Christmas. Today, without communities, each person retreats into one’s own to figure out how to live through personal difficulties. Of course, in the time of great need, almost all experts who know what to do are on holidays to enjoy Christmas. It is a different world.
Some of us do our best to bring back this community and its traditions where people share and enjoy together the good news of God. I pray and hope you are one of them who value this little community we have where joys and blessings are shared. Without communities with strong care and concerns for one another, traditions of giving become nothing more than well intentioned duty without building relationships of love.
Christmas Eve, December 24: Lunch at noon followed by worship service
Christmas, December 25: Christmas Worship at 10:30 am
Love Your Church
In order to carry on our ministries, we are asking you to help us raise $20,000 on top of the regular offerings. You may choose to help us with small amounts weekly or monthly. Another way is to make a one time donation. Whatever you can help will be greatly appreciated.