Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hoosiers of Many Faiths in Community

David Carlson’s Thoughts about Advent 2018

With November edging toward December, those of us who are Christians enter the holy season of Advent. This is a season that encourages us to wake up, to be alert, so as not to miss the birth of Christ this Christmas.

Given that commercials will remind us constantly of how many shopping days we have to Christmas, it would seem impossible for anyone to miss Christmas. But Advent isn’t concerned with Christians forgetting the date of Christmas but rather with Christians missing the meaning of Christmas.

There has been a mantra in recent years of keeping Christ in Christmas. That’s a noble thought, but what does it mean? For some Christians, keeping Christ in Christmas is as simple as not calling Christmas “Xmas” or “the holidays.” That’s a pretty minimal step.

Other Christians will attempt to honor the Christmas season by spending less on their families and themselves and more on those in need. That would be to follow Christ’s example of focusing on giving rather than receiving, a more significant step than worrying about the language of Christmas.

But an even more challenging understanding of Advent confronts us this year. If Christmas for Christians is a time to celebrate the coming of the Son of God into this world, Advent must be a time of preparation for this miraculous event. But how are we who are Christians to prepare?

Who is David Carlson?
Dr. David Carlson is Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Franklin College, where he specializes in: Old and New Testament studies; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; church history; theology, literature and film; interfaith relations; religion and violence. He is an emeritus board member of the Center for Interfaith Cooperation.

A careful reading of Christ’s birth in the New Testament makes it clear that most people of the time missed the event completely. Yes, many were hoping for the birth of a Messiah, but no one expected that hope to be met in a baby born in a Judean cave to a poor immigrant family from Galilee.

Later, in his ministry, Jesus made it clear that anyone who wanted to “meet” him in the future should look no further than those around who are hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick, or in prison. There is an irony here. Aren’t the hungry, homeless, sick, and imprisoned of our day precisely those who are told that there is no room for them in the inn?

In other words, Advent is a time of testing for Christians. And this year in particular, we see the hungry, homeless, and stateless in the form of immigrants caravanning northward toward our border.

What responsibility do we have for these people? Trump says we have none, calling these families criminals and animals. How easy it is to label these people without asking the simple question, “why are these people leaving their countries?”

One of our nation’s great sins of omission is that we don’t know or care about the history of our neighbors to the south. Consequently, we don’t grasp the part we as North Americans have played over the centuries in furthering the suffering of so many in Latin America.

Here are several examples. Many of those heading north are fleeing rampant crime in their countries, crime related to drug cartels. Yet, those drug cartels only stay in business because of the addiction of Americans and Europeans. Without the demand of Americans and Europeans for those drugs, the cartels would disappear.

Secondly, many of these Latin American countries are ruled by unelected military regimes, regimes who without a second thought kidnap, torture, and kill anyone opposed to their reign of terror. But it is to our shame that so many of these unelected military tyrants were trained at the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

The families making up the caravans heading north to the razor wire and US military troops at our southern border are the victims of those cartels and those military regimes in league with the cartels. In a way that seems providential, we face these families during our Advent and Christmas season. Dare we miss the fact that these families are the Christ families of our time?

Trump has put out a “No Vacancy in the American Inn” sign to these hungry, homeless, and stateless people. In contrast, Jesus told his followers that they should look for him precisely in those who are hungry, homeless, and stateless.

The choice for Christians this Advent is clear—to wake up to the coming of Christ in the faces of those in need or to stay asleep in our self-satisfaction. If there is no room in our hearts for these families coming north to our border, won’t our Christmas season become exactly what the prophet Amos warned about—a feast that God despises?

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