Bankole: What we forget about Christmas

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

The Christmas season is fraught with beautiful traditions that require money and time.

Think about it.

The buying of gifts — in this peak selling season for retailers — for friends and families and the holiday parties and dinners accompanied by wonderful decorations that speak to the spirit of the season are all geared toward making Christmas a festive and happy period.

However, what is often missing is the focus on uplifting the lives of those around us and, in the larger community, of those who can’t afford to celebrate because of the dire socioeconomic conditions they face. The state of their economic lives provides no measure of hope for them during this season.

To them and their children, Christmas is just one more day in a continuing tale of daily survival. Some of these parents have to be bearers of bad news by telling their children that they can’t afford to buy much anticipated gifts. The children have no recourse but to accept the reality that financial worries are standing in the way of their happiness.

For these families, it is also hard to find positive meaning, for instance, in “God rest ye merry gentlemen ... let nothing you dismay,” one of the oldest Christmas carols, because their lives are just the opposite of the theme conveyed in the song.

But the irony is that the essence of the Christmas story, which is centered around the birth of Jesus, who was born poor, shows that those who are poor shouldn’t feel sad during this season because Christmas, too, is about them. They should not feel disenfranchised.

“One reason is because God wanted to show us that Jesus Christ came to bring salvation to everyone — not just the rich and powerful, but the poor and downtrodden. God’s love extends to the whole human race,” evangelist Billy Graham explains in a 2012 Q&A interview about the meaning of Christmas. “In addition, because he was born into a poor family, we know that Jesus understands what it means to be poor — as almost everyone was then, and still is in most parts of the world.”

The theologian James H. Cone, in his book “God of the Oppressed,” added: “The Jesus story is the poor person’s story, because God in Christ becomes poor and weak in order that the oppressed might become liberated from poverty and powerlessness. The oppressed are freed for struggle, for battle in the pursuit of humanity.”

And based on the biblical account and the writings of Titus Flavius Josephus (born Yosef ben Matityahu), the Jewish scholar and historian, if Jesus were to host a Christmas party in Detroit, he would not exclusively invite the mayor, city council president and those who call the shots in the city.

Instead, the son of Mary would include and even prioritize the homeless and forgotten, the abandoned and the working poor, prisoners and those left out of the city’s recovery. He would make a big deal out of the fact that there are children in Detroit who stand to lose health coverage next month if Congress fails to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

That is part of the significance of Christmas: remembering and reaching out to the marginalized. In fact, it is hard to appreciate the true meaning of the season without turning our attention to those who are lacking resources and opportunities to better their lives because Christmas is also about being charity-minded.

“When we are generous during this holiday season, much like the Three Wise Men who gave to baby Jesus the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we are continuing the tradition of giving our best to others,” said Vickie Winn, director of public relations at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. The group runs an Adopt-a-Child Christmas program to collect gifts and warm clothing for children in need.

“Whatever we choose to do, it is a personal choice and the act of giving is an age-old tradition of the season,” Winn says.

And around the world, faith leaders are using the season to prick the conscience of political leaders to address poverty, an issue at the center of Detroit’s recovery.

In Hong Kong, for example, the head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Paul Kwong said: “As we celebrate Christmas in high spirits, the poor in our midst might sigh and ask, ‘What does Christmas have to do with me?’”

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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