There is a message wrapped in the Christmas story that doesn’t get opened on Christmas Eve, and for good reason. It is counter-cultural. We can save it for other times of the year. But it is a message we desperately need to hear and heed.
Moses was an abandoned slave child raised in Pharaoh’s household and as an adult, rejected his privilege and led a slave rebellion while issuing a constitution for an egalitarian society. The young Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was a prince raised in utter opulence who, upon observing the extreme brutality of poverty on the other side of his gated community, abandoned privilege and became a mendicant. Mohammad was from very modest means. With the help of benefactors, he became a savvy and successful businessman while also rejecting personal affluence, and embracing both simplicity and generosity. Jesus was born in stark and utter poverty, vulnerable to the arbitrary violence of the oppressive empire controlling his homeland. By volume, the greatest focus of his teaching was about riches and the parallel curses of stinginess and selfishness.
We ought to recognize a theme here – a thread running through the spiritual wisdom of the world. Staring into the story of these ancient and influential figures could cause us to wonder if we are looking for God in all the wrong places? Are we seeking affirmation from empty sources – relying on comfort and security from sources that cannot truly grant them?
Of course we are, that’s what we do. We are human beings and we like stuff.
We like to make a nice soft nest to snuggle in and enjoy.It’s natural.We like comfort, we like security, and we like pleasure.We need not feel guilty about itor ashamed of it. That is who we are. The question is, can we do better than that?
Somewhere deep inside us, we know that if we do not do better we are going to kill ourselves.Maybe not you or me personally, but corporately, communally, globally, eventually…soon.Unless we change we’re dead.
It is not a new message. According to the core spiritual traditions of world history, it is one God keeps sending. It is an old message sent to the ancient world, the medieval world, the modern world, and now, the post-modern world. It is a message sent to every culture and to the captains of every society. It is a message about the hazard of living for stuff at the expense of the truly important things that generate and preserve life. It is a message about manic consumption draining and killing the planet and the web of interdependent creatures living on it.
That is what the Christmas Story is really about, by the way. When we unpack all the mythological and romantic elements of the Christmas story, it turns out to be a baby with a face only a mother could love. God, if any of our spiritual traditions are to be believed, has delivered the message over and over and over again. It is a message that Moses, Buddha, Mohammad, and Jesus echo like a broken record: We’ve got issues with stuff.