Last Sunday, we began worship by singing the first chorus of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel:” Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel, shall come to thee O Israel. Emmanuel means God with us and we celebrate Christmas to remember Christ being born into our world. Christmas has become many things: a time to be with family, a time for rest, a time to exchange gifts, and a time to give to the poor. In theory, I love to see the Church and everybody else giving to the poor. In practice, however, the spirit of giving prevalent around the holidays serves only to highlight the deep economic inequality in our society today, and how we continue to perpetuate it everyday.
We love to give to the poor, but we do not love to see the poor becoming not poor. For example, Wal-Mart organizes food and present drives around this time of year for its less fortunate employees. Well, maybe Wal-Mart wouldn’t have so many “less fortunate” employees if it paid a living wage and employed people full time. Our churches also love to host canned food drives, buy turkey dinners and presents for the children, but when asked to support almost anything involving systemic change for the poor, that support rapidly dissipates. This is not an either or situation, it is a BOTH AND. Yes, the children need presents, food and clothing right now, but their parents also need access to healthcare, and living wages, and employment protections, such as sick days, to ensure that they can continually provide for themselves and their families.
As we enter into our time of Advent, of preparation for Christmas, we must remember that God did not come to earth seeking worship and praise. God did not send his son so that we could build massive buildings to sing and praise him in. God sent his son, Emmanuel, to be WITH us. Christ came to the world to release the captive, heal the sick, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Christ came to earth to be with us to transform our society into God’s kingdom. This transformation will only occur with deep and sustained systemic change.
So we must fight the systems. We must advocate for the poor. We must fight for all to have access to resources, and fight against selfishness, materialism, and consumerism so prevalent in our society today. This season should be a time to give but it should also be a time to change.