Christmas, the way of Jesus, and social work

December 24, 2020

A commonplace criticism of the American version of Christmas – an orgy of consumption and material culture celebration, at least for those who can afford it – is that we forget “the reason for the season.” That reason is, of course, the birth of Jesus, whom about two-thirds of Americans (one-third of the entire world population) embrace as the Christ, the Jewish savior-messiah and the creator God’s pivotal entrance into human history, “Word made flesh” in the language of John’s gospel.

So what would observing Christmas in line with the teachings of Jesus look like? Would doing so put us closer to realizing the social work vision of economic and social justice?

Consider just a couple of nuggets from the Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Even pre-pandemic, the Christmas season fired up depression in millions of Americans, and sparked anxiety in tens of millions more. Over 40 percent of Americans report feelings of isolation and loneliness during the holidays. A Jesus-centric Christmas might well feature extensive organized outreach efforts to connect with these legions of sufferers. More fundamentally, it would expose and target for radical reform the economic, political, and cultural forces that atomize individuals and degrade the social norms that unite us.

How about “Blessed are the meek; they shall inherit the earth”? Right now, the meek – the underclasses, or social/economic “losers” – are getting hammered badly, and stand to inherit little but misery. The ranks of the newly poor are exploding in face of a deepening economic depression, as the already poor grow ever more abjectly so. Meanwhile Congress responds only feebly to the screaming need (and if Trump refuses to sign the just-achieved “compromise” relief bill, it may yet prove to respond not at all). A true Jesus-Christmas would not stand by dumbly while this horror unfolds. The Christmas celebration would spill into the streets, demanding an immediate and meaningful, if not massive, response.

One might go on with more of the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the peacemakers…”), or any number of Jesus’ pithy teachings. The result would be the same – an intense focus on the marginalized, the excluded, the oppressed, the victims of ruling power.

Would Christmas celebrated in line with the teaching of Jesus bring us closer to the world of justice envisioned by professional social work? Yes; emphatically, yes.

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