Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas 2008

What does Christmas mean to the world in the year 2008? In Western culture for the last two thousand years or so, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Jewish itinerant preacher. The stories of his birth in a barn behind an inn, the visit of wise men bearing gifts and later his execution on a cross are written into the fabric of our culture, its music, art, architecture, philosophy, literature, and in Christian worship. The Christian churches developed out of these humble beginnings.

The basic simple message of Jesus has been distorted over the years as churches identified themselves with political power. Popes became so powerful they crowned kings. Orthodox Patriarchs worked hand in hand with Czars, Conservative Christians dominated Republican politics in recent years.

The abuses of religion wedded to power have produced pogroms, racial and ethnic hate, inquisitions and wars to the point that many believe with the late Madalyn Murray O'Hair that "Religion has caused more misery to all of mankind in every stage of human history than any other single idea." There is all too much truth in her remark.

The Christian churches have distorted the basic message of Jesus beyond recognition. As a result, the cathedrals and churches of Europe have become tourist sites. Few Europeans are active members of their churches, though many say they are nominally Catholic or Protestant. The main line denominations in this country are shrinking in membership. Fundamentalist churches are strong and growing as many people yearn for simple messages of hope for heaven. As long as these American churches align with the powerful and rich, they too will soon diminish in size and strength.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus the Revolutionary. In the extreme poverty of the Roman world two thousand years ago, Jesus made enemies by advocating things like peace and justice, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, focusing on the poor, jabbing the powerful and holding the foolish accountable. He radically suggested people love and forgive their enemies and one another.

When the Christian churches get back to the basics of the message of Jesus the Jewish prophet, they will flourish. The reason that Jesus is remembered by so many in the world is the appeal of those deep human values. When church and world truly stand for love and not power, when we stand for forgiveness and not vengeance, we will be following the message of the man whose birth we celebrate at this season.

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