A New Chance in the New Year

In 2009 it is in entirely possible that for one of the first times in modern history, people around the world will be faced with the impossible sustainability of modern consumption. For many people, the shift in the tides of the economy have brought not only genuine financial hardship, but some essential questions about life to the forefront of their minds. The hardest reality of all is that regardless of whether one finds themselves in America or England or Kenya or Australia or Portugal, people of faith have been hit equally as hard as any. Should it be any other way?
There seem to be a couple of places where the Church during 2009 has a chance to genuinely engage with people in ways which are not only unique to our present sufferings, but which also offer messages of hope and justice and restoration; all of which are core to the narratives of the Incarnation at Advent, and to the hope inspired by Epiphany.
One of the first places where the church must go during the early part of 2009 is to the places where many of those who would have joined them for this season’s Christmas services now live: to the streets and homeless shelters of our urban centers. Over the course of the last six months, it has been reported that the number of people whom have taken to the streets as a result of the loss of their home, or the inability to pay their mortgage, has been surprising. For many people working in the shelters around major urban centers in America like Atlanta, New York City, and Detroit, the numbers of those literally now in the place called homelessness has been shocking.
For the Church to truly have a prophetic voice during this financial crisis, it must not ignore that many of the people now in the place of homelessness, could very well have been visiting their communities this season. While not everyone in every town in homelessness would have necessarily ventured into every church, it will take the awareness of the every church in America to truly care for the every homeless in the country. While for years, the face of homelessness has traditionally been that of a male in ragged clothes who drinks to much and couldn’t get a job, we must not forget the the greatest population of those in American homelessness today are young children. Statistics tell us that during the last few months of the year, when many in the church celebrated the birth of a young child in Jesus of Nazareth who came to bring life and life to the full, there was an estimated 100’000 children on the streets on the night that Santa Claus came to town.
The second place where the church has a unique opportunity to speak differently to the context of people lives may not technically seem so foreign, for this place is the pulpit. Most pastors will tell you that Christmas and New Years is one of the peak seasons of church attendance. While many of the would-be-Christmas attendees have now been put out on the streets by struggling economy, there are many more that will still make it to the church on time. However, the place called the pulpit will only seem different if the message that is to be brought is new; and, therein lies the problem.
Often, as a result of having packet houses, churches attempt in even craftier ways to speak to people about the life of Jesus and the need for exploring what it means to have unique relationship with the Christ of faith during their Christmas and New Years’ services. While this message is core to what the incarnation is about, let this season’s message focus our hearts and minds differently!
Be not afraid, people are stilling going to come to the church and other communities of faith around the American landscape looking for hope, help, and guidance in this time of crisis. Yet as 2009 begins, the Church can take its message and the hearts of its people somewhere different. Despite the passion to see lives changed with its messages of eternal life, the church must recognize that for the far majority of the people in their congregation the sentiments of insufficiency, dirtiness, lowliness of heart, and the need of savior already exist. The abuse and sin of Wall Street’s pun dents has ripped many people from main street of entire life savings, retirement hopes and dreams, and yes, even the basic shelter over their heads.
The new kind of retelling of the narrative of the Christ of faith could never have been so important. In communities liturgical and free, in neighborhoods and shelters, in pubs and in the pamphlets handed out by street preachers, the message of a child who came into the world with very little, exiled and looking for a community in to receive him, could never have been so needed.
You see, for many in America like in the manger in Nazareth some 2000 years ago, the smell of the bull is close, the immigrants who’ve stopped by looking for shelter are near, and those who can brings gifts of honor have still arrived. This year, one doesn’t have to imagine that those who are coming to our communities of worship have on rose colored glasses about the world. No, for the most part, each of them know that we need something more than our consumption and individualism. This season, like never before in modern history, the global Church has a genuine chance to gift the story of Jesus back to the people who for centuries have needed it the most: those without hope, those who are downcast, those who are dirty, and those who are heavy laden and in need of some rest.
Let’s make 2009 different. Let’s take a message of friendship, community, and care to our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and enemies.
Towards a different 2009….
joshua c