Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Advent: God with us

This is the fourth Sunday of Advent. Finally, we get to the Christmas story in Matthew 1:18-25. Joseph is told by the angel about the birth of his son and what he is to be named. Jesus. Then, the prophecy from Isaiah is quoted and there it is said that the son will be called, Emmanuel which means "God with us". So, Matthew is saying a theological mouthful. Jesus is God with us. The gospel of Christmas. God came to be, for people. He came to be with us. In all manner of circumstances, God is with us. That's what Christmas means. Simple and clear. We can botch that message up badly, can't we.  The perception is, sometimes, that Christians get to decide who God is with and who he isn't. We can make it sound as if God came to be with only, certain, people. People like us or people who we think are ok. There are certain people who need to get their acts together before God will be with them.

I was thinking about this gospel for the fourth Sunday in Advent as I was checking out the NY Times today. There was an Op-Ed piece entitled, "A Transgender Volunteer for the Salvation Army. Good, I thought, maybe some good news for this Christian organization that has done so much good over the years. In recent days, the Salvation Army has been slammed for some of it's statements about gay, lesbian and transgendered people. This is sad because the Salvation Army is an organization that has helped many needy and struggling people. Their ringing bells outside many stores are reminders that Christmas is about helping others. That God is with us. It's also sad because they are us, they are Christians, so here is another instance where Christians seem to be insensitive to other people.

The essay was written by a transgendered person who teaches at Colby College in Maine. She wanted to do something to help others at Christmas a few years ago so she became a Salvation Army bell ringer. Apparently, she did not know what the Salvation Army had said about people like her and they did not know who she was. When a friend pointed out to her some of their "anti-gay" statements, she dropped her bell. There is no indication in her essay that she was asked to quit bell ringing and I have no idea if they would have asked her to quit. She still believes in the work they do but not in their statements about people like her. Recently, she says, the Salvation Army has tried to clarify their position. Essentially, she comes off being more charitable than the Salvation Army. Perhaps, that was her point, I don't know.

I do know that sometimes our statements make it hard for people to hear what Matthew said.