What the Christmas Story Means for the Oppressed and the Oppressors

red_christmas_rejoiceThese recent days, I’ve struggled to express the words of my heart over the plight of my African American brothers and sisters in the United States.

I’ve found myself waking up in the middle of the night troubled over the callous words spoken verbally or spread across social media platforms by several conservative white evangelicals.

Many of the people who make the most offensive statements are also the ones who’ve never sat down to listen to a fellow African American express his or her own personal story.

I have more than one dear friend who as African American mothers legitimately fear for the future of their male sons.

If you struggle to understand why law abiding citizens would have reason to fear, read this link and realize that this is the reality not just for a few, but for many African Americans around the USA.

Argue all you want over statistics that have blown up in our newsfeeds like how many white people versus black people get shot every year by police officers. But in the end, I sincerely doubt that oppression and injustice will improve by simply quoting stats. (After all, people of opposing opinions may still use the same stats to argue their case.)

Think with me for a moment:

  • Would we march into a funeral home and tell a family that their child brought his death upon him or herself? Yet, I’ve read comments like this online.
  • Do we emphasize to a family that a murder is simply a crime perpetrated by a sinful individual and not the fault of a broken justice system? We are too quick to forget that sin is often more than individual pitted against individual. It affects the community too.
  • Do we as Christians perhaps feel so overwhelmed by a world full of tragedy that we’ve begun to close our eyes and desensitize ourselves? Do we do this to avoid carrying the pain in our hearts?

The older I get the more I feel that Christians aren’t supposed to be as happy as we often pretend. Filled with joy? Absolutely. But always happy? No.

We need more Christians with righteous anger.

We need more Christians who cry over the plight of the poor and the broken.

We need to embrace the Old Testament idea of communal lament and mourning.

As I’ve reread the story of the first Christmas, I’ve thought over some interesting things about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus that have implications for how we approach our African American brothers and sisters today, both for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of justice.

Bear in mind that Mary and Joseph were among the poorest in Israel and oppressed by the Roman government. Their hearts yearned for a time when the Messiah would come to set things right.

Mary’s Magnificat spoke of a coming king who would exalt the humble and bring down the proud. Her words would surely have been viewed by the rulers of her day as “fighting words.” She protested oppression.

One day our God will right all wrongs but until that day, he has made it clear what our actions should be. Think on the words from the prophet Micah: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8).

We don’t just sit back and wait for God to come and take care of everything. The gospel which saved us also gives us the power to live courageous lives—to live embracing others, including their sadness. The gospel gives us the power to take some of their pain and carry it in our own hearts as we grieve with them.

We can “Rejoice with those rejoice,” as it says in Romans 12:15, but the second half of the verse concludes: “Weep with those who weep.”

When the King of Heaven poured himself into the womb of a virgin, he didn’t choose the richest mother. He chose a young girl whom Scripture suggests was among the poorest of the poor in Israel. A girl from Nazareth, the town where it was said “Nothing good comes out.”

Further, he chose a time when Mary and her people group were brutally oppressed by the government. The Romans punished their own citizens with mere fines or exile, but many Jews faced much worse, sometimes even death by crucifixion.

This is the life Jesus chose to enter and experience firsthand. He walked along side the abused and the mistreated and the outcasts of society. And when they grieved, he wept with them (cf. John 11).

In a recent interview with Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, he responded to a question about how we view “communal lament.”

Here is what was asked by the interviewer: “Theologian Dr. Emilie Townes talks about ‘communal lament’ as part of addressing injustice and eventual healing. What, as you see it, is the Old Testament precedent for lament and protest?

Here is what he said: “Well, the laments in the books of Psalms and Lamentations are all an expression of grief, but they are also an expression of hope. They are an insistence that things cannot remain this way and they must be changed. Such prayers are partly an address to God, but they are also a communal resolve to hang in and take transformative action. Unless that kind of grief and rage and anger is put to speech, it can never become energy. So I believe the transformative function of such prayers is that it transforms energy and rage into positive energy.”

Before we cling to our own opinions concerning facts in the media, stop and ask, “Have I listened? Truly listened to very many stories from African Americans?” Not just stories from the past, but stories that go on around us today?

Then, as you listen, grieve alongside them and fight for justice—because the gospel gives us courage.

  • Joe Schmoi

    They should worry more about being killed by another negro than white person.