By George Elerick
Religion is an opium for the masses Karl Marx once said. And sadly… he was right! Religion as a set of doctrinal statements that confirm canonical gospels or historical proofs to follow, become indicative of political tyrranical governments that tried to rule the life and deaths of its people. The ancient Roman government sought full ownership of its people at any cost to the people. Emperor Constantine thought it was in the best interest of the world, as they knew it then, to be forced into a mandated state conversion whereby all the participants in the Roman way of life would have to follow Jesus rather than have a choice or not. (Before I go on, I am not trying to attack Christianity for the sake of attacking certain aspects of it, but to bring us to a closer understanding of what we were meant for, and maybe how far we have truly missed the mark.)
There are several examples in our history of Christian contemporaries demonstrating the same destructive tenacity and promoting similar agendas. Christmas used to be about giving not imposing. But, we must to come realize the hard truth that religion as a system is failing the world. Religion as a set of doctrinal statements, although helpful, does not ultimately benefit the world. It does not rid the world of the AIDs epidemic, it does not give food to the starving, it does not bring hope into the death that war so evidently condones, and the list could go on, but you get the point.
This is why religion as a discipline is falling short like it did in the days of Jesus, it’s failing us as communities who claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth. And ultimately failing the world which Jesus already came to fully save and partners with us to restore.
Christmas is about birth.
Advent is about the arrival of Hope on the scene. But what is hope? Maybe the intrinsic characteristics of hope were always progressively maleable rather than something aggressively unchanging. Maybe hope by its own admission is circumstantial, and yet still remains tenacious and defiant that all will be well against all odds. Maybe advent wasn’t only about the arrival of someone, maybe it was also about the departure of something else that might easily have taken the place of which was to come, in this regard the birth of Jesus.
But, Jesus carried with him a deep hope for change. A deep hope that invoked a new charter for all people to experience full reinvention of life, love, peace and grace. It’s the kind of hope, that in the midst of countries failing to deliver peace and abandoning hope as a long lost child, that hope might come in the form of someone who is willing to find a way to help those in need. Maybe hope is listening to someone who lost someone dear, even if they annoy you. Maybe hope is the ability to stick up for someone no matter what it costs you.
Maybe hope is pushing your own religious boundaries to help defend the cause of someone else. If we believe in Advent, then we believe in hope. If we believe in hope, then hope is a movement all can participate in. But hope isn’t religious, it doesn’t claim a denomination or a set of doctrines. Hope is for everyone. And it arrives on the scene, just in the nick of time.
So, in your circle of influence, who is crying out for hope? Who is waiting for the advent of your arrival? That is what it truly means to experience Christmas, to be fully present, fully broken, fully aware and fully available to be God in the flesh, to carry the incarnational message that all are welcome at the cave-manger of Jesus. If we continue to spend all of our energies bickering over who believes what about Jesus and how right or wrong they might be, the world misses out on the hope that Jesus intended to bring.
Christmas is about bringing all of our differences together as the first story did and to share in our commonalities.
The three wise men were most likely Zoroastrian astrologers who visited Jesus a couple years after his birth. They were the mystics in their religious group of people. The shepherds were the most revolting of people in their society. Then there was a teenage woman who carried God into the world, but was still a woman who lived in a culture where woman were valueless.
Maybe Christmas is about bringing our views to together at the foot of Hope. Maybe advent is about absolving ourselves of the need to be right, and share love as an agent of transformational love.
George loves the outdoors, singing in the shower and doing underwater, synchronized pilates. His new book Jesus Bootlegged: Recapturing the Stolen Message of Jesus for The World will be out soon. You can read more about him at his blog.