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Reconnecting with Poverty at Christmas

December 29, 2002

Ian Lawton

First Sunday after Christmas     John 1:1-18 


Now that the song of the angels is stilled

Now that the star in the sky is gone

Now that kings and princes are home

Now that shepherds are back with their flocks

the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost

to heal the broken

to feed the hungry

to release the prisoner

to rebuild the nations

to bring peace among the people

to make music in the heart.


Now that our gospel text has Jesus leaving Bethlehem with his family, so we must leave that place of exhilaration for the stark reality of our world.


The arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem is heralded by the sacrifice of turtle doves by his family. In this act Jesus is made public. Turtle doves were sacrificed as a concession to those who could not afford lambs. So, once again we are reminded that it is in our poverty that we serve the good of the world. I'm not talking here about money, I'm talking about poverty as an openness to finding faith and wisdom in others; that is an acknowledgment that we are not alone, that we need others. It is what Buddhism would call Sunyata, a self emptying which acknowledges the interconnectedness of all things.


The best definition I have heard of poverty comes from Oscar Romero, who places poverty in the context of Christmas for us; "No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God - for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God."


Jesus is heralded in Jerusalem by Simeon, a Jew who opens the possibilities of the Jesus revolution even to Gentiles. Once again we are reminded of the universal scope of the Christian mission. The drawing together of religion and race is central to the story from its beginning. In our poverty we are open to the insight of new and different ideas.


Jesus is announced also by Anna, the ageing Prophet, yet also a widow. Widows were in that world synonymous with poverty, and the insight which poverty brings. Once again we are reminded that the least likely people become our teachers and inspiration.


So, with New Year around the corner, we reflect on our lives today in the light of Christmas. Our new years will have an abundance of God presence when we have our own poverty in focus; our need for others, even the least likely guide.


One last thought - over the past days there has been further violence in Bethlehem, shooting of Palestinians, and a renewed curfew on the streets. Of course Israel claims that this is counter terrorism; we are told that the violence is necessary. In Jesus' day, the tyrant Herod ordered the killing of all male babies under the age of two in Bethlehem and its vicinity. All that violence to satisfy Herod's insecurity. Once again we are expected to believe that the violence was necessary. It makes you wonder about the search for Osama bin Laden, and the pursuit of Saddam Hussein. All this violence to satisfy the insecurity of the power elite.


Is it really necessary, and is it the only way? Surely the Jesus mission which began in the violence of Bethlehem, and came to its climax in the violence of Jerusalem was all about another way. It was about the bringing together of people of difference, reconnecting with poverty and interdependence, and seeking non-violent resistance to power politics.


In rediscovering the roots of this Jesus story, we begin to see at this most significant time in human history the work of Christmas laid out for us. Now because the song of the angels is dimmed by the self righteous rhetoric of politicians; now that the star in the sky is clouded by the smoke of warfare; now that civilians are kept in their homes by oppressive curfews, the work of Christmas is all too clear:


To find the lost

To heal the broken

To feed the hungry

To release the prisoner

To rebuild the nations

To bring peace among the people

To make music in the heart.


Ian Lawton Vicar, St Matthew-in-the-City


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