Faith Matters

OPINION | Rev. Evan D. Garner: Christmas celebrates God shaping the world for human flourishing

Fulfillment of God’s promise takes change

In this season of anticipation, we spend enormous amounts of time, effort and money getting ready for Christmas. For most of us, that is a joyful undertaking.

Despite the hard work, I love this time of year and the spirit of generosity and kindness that comes with it. Nevertheless, as we wait for the yearly celebration of Jesus' birth, I wonder whether we realize what we are waiting for.

The good news of Christmas is God's radical intervention in the affairs of human beings. For Christians, at the heart of these celebrations is the belief that, in the person of Jesus Christ, God has reoriented the world in accordance with the divine vision articulated throughout salvation history.

At the time of the nativity, God's promises to rescue the lost, lift up the downtrodden and free those in bondage had been celebrated by God's people for generations. The humble birth of a savior was a sign that those promises were, again, being fulfilled.

I think many of us have forgotten that, because Christmas is a celebration of God's justice coming to the world, this season is about anticipating not only the birth of a savior, but also the judgment that his birth foretells. As a preacher, I struggle to find a way to proclaim both as the good news that we need to hear.

In our congregation, we tend to talk frequently about justice, but shy away from conversations about judgement. We associate judgment with punishment and suffering--concepts we rightly seek to divorce from our understanding of God.

But judgment is better understood as God's realignment of worldly values with heavenly ideals. Judgment is how God sets right all that is broken in the world and, as history shows us repeatedly, there is no way for us to attain justice without experiencing judgement.

Perhaps the game of Monopoly, a popular source of family angst during the holidays, can help us understand why.

As a child I loved playing that game, but now I find it tedious and unentertaining. Even though the game can last for hours, the outcome is all but certain after only a few trips around the board. Whoever starts out accumulating the most money and property through the luck of the dice will eventually win.

That is a pretty good approximation for what the world looks like when human values rule the day.

For Monopoly to become more interesting, for it to begin to mirror God's vision for the world, the rules would need to change so that the assets of the lucky and wealthy were necessarily redistributed to those who had less. Then perhaps elements of skill would come into play.

That changing of the rules is an image of judgment. Someone outside the game must intervene to correct what has become an impediment to justice and an obstacle to fruitful life. Not everyone would embrace such a change, but those who look for God's promises to be fulfilled are called to do so.

Christmas is a time to celebrate our belief that God has acted and continues to act in ways that shape the world according to God's vision for human flourishing.

Instinctively, the spirit of generosity that we experience this season reflects our commitment to judgement. This Christmas, as we proclaim the good news of the savior's birth, I hope we can also celebrate the good news of judgement that his birth represents for the world today.