As long as I can remember, one of the Christmas messages from churches is that it’s a good thing Jesus came to “save us all from Satan’s power,” as one carol puts it. There are pious messages, our greed versus other’s needs. We hear that Jesus came for and among “the least, the last, and the lost.”
Of course, we’re supposed to pay attention to people’s pain and suffering. It’s important for churches to recognize and address gaps in justice, equity, and compassion. But sometimes, in an effort to stress the importance of the birth of Jesus, I and other preachers can lapse into a finger pointing account of why the world needs Jesus so much now. You’d almost believe that the world has been getting worse since the first Christmas. But what if that’s not true? What if—on the whole—the world is actually thriving and progressing?
Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progressis a thorough, comprehensive and compelling exploration of the effects of progress on the human condition and the earth we inhabit. People have made progress in every area of human striving including length and quality of life, health, health care, sustenance, wealth, closing the gap on inequality, safeguarding the environment, peace, safety, democratization of the world, equal rights, literacy, education, and access to knowledge.
The birth of Jesus was the birth of God’s good news into human life. Our basic message, is good news. It’s what churches offer the world. If the world is getting worse, not better, this implies that the Christ we celebrate is ineffective.
Heaven knows there are still problems to be solved, evils to be dismantled and atrocities to be halted. Yet, we must not bury the positive transformations that are taking place in an effort to motivate compassion.
Christian author Rebekah Simon-Peter asks: What if instead of simply mentioning “the least, the last, and the lost,” we also described people as resourceful problem-solvers who partner with Jesus to co-create new realities? What if instead of a “broken and hurting world” we highlight human resiliency and efforts to flesh out God’s love?
I say it’s time to lift up all that is going well and right in the world, along with what is not. All the ways God answers prayer as well as the prayers still to be answered. All the ways churches partner with Christ to make a difference in the world as well as the partnerships we must still take up. The birth of Jesus did make a difference and still is making a difference.
Rev. Bill Schram began his ministry with Westminster in March and is the current Interim Minister. Bill attended McCormick seminary in Chicago and met his wife Jenny there. They have served as co-pastors and in separate positions. He has served churches in urban, near suburb, small town, county seat towns in various positions such as pastor, associate pastor, interim pastor, and hospital chaplain. He and Jenny have two natural and one foster daughter. Delightfully, they now have a granddaughter to enjoy.