Remembering Christ’s Birth: He Came for the Poor and Suffering

By on November 25, 2022

Along with many of my fellow clergy, and members of our congregations, I work on the front lines of poverty, suffering, and deprivation. It’s always been that way and always should. But at Christmas this inevitably comes into sharper focus. It’s because of the season—God becoming man—but also due to the juxtaposition of generosity and joy on one side, pain and loss on the other. This Christmas is the worst I’ve seen in five years in terms of a decline in aid and support, and a decay in public and government concern for the least fortunate in society.

I use the word “fortunate” on purpose, because running parallel with the struggle of the forgotten is the wealth of those who are—yes—fortunate. Spare me the talk of initiative and industry. Of course, there are countless people who have worked their way to stability and even comfort, and all honour to them. But look at so many of those with financial, media, and political power and ask if family, wealth, and privilege had no influence. How, then, could they viscerally empathize and fully understand?

Understand, for example, the young woman who cried recently as she sat in a coffee bar, relishing the sandwich I’d bought her, and explained how she’s tried her local politicians, foot banks, legal clinics, everyone. Some were helpful, though never sufficiently, others downright indifferent. “I just can’t pay the bills” she said, wiping away tears, “but I’ve got a son to support.” She then told me she was about to start as a sex worker. “A lot of my friends are doing the same. No choice. Please, don’t judge me.” I said I’d never dream of doing so, but begged her to come to me any time for help, and to keep trying the alternatives.

Then there are those who earlier this year were told that they have to repay $1,000 of government money that helped them survive the pandemic. It’s because there’s a clawback for those who earned less than $5,000 the preceding year. They did earn it, but it was sometimes minimum wage cash and they didn’t declare it—technically wrong of course. But non-declaration of a few thousand dollars gained working in often dirty and even dangerous conditions is apparently a dreadful sin for the poor, but substantial tax avoidance by the rich who use good accountants or offshore accounts is considered clever and astute.

Or how about those without homes, people living in tents who have been evicted by local councils and often aggressive police who claim to care about the inhabitants’ wellbeing and safety, but provide little alternative for them? It’s hard not to wonder if the optics are more significant than the reality. Remember, shelters can be terrifying for people with mental health challenges or addictions.

And the hidden or working poor, who have jobs and may look smart and in control but are obliged to use foodbanks, or choose between heating and eating. I meet people like this all the time, wonderful people who are nevertheless ashamed of their condition when in fact they should be proud of their courage, and angry at the way they’re being exploited.

All I can offer is, if you like, street theology. “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The rest, I am convinced, is a footnote. I don’t speak to them of faith and God unless asked to do so, which is more often than you might think, and I only pray with people if they request it. In my experience, there’s far less cynicism about Christianity among people who are struggling than those who are not. I do what I can with local officials, the police, politicians, and social workers, and many of them do all that they can to improve the situation. It changes some things but it can’t change all things.

It’s getting worse rather than better, and those who could make an authentic difference from places of authority seem cemented in tired arguments and partisan squabbling. I’m often staggered by the moral and practical gap between what is discussed in public life and what happens in the real world.

Christmas matters, and we should relish and cherish it. But in so doing we also need to remember what it means and what the birth of Jesus represents. A baby, so acutely vulnerable, born to poor refugees who lived under occupation. He would grow to manhood and live with the rejected and marginalized. He came for us, all of us, and had a special love and message for the poor and suffering. Never forget that. Especially at Christmas.

 

  • Michael Coren

        

    The Reverend Michael Coren is the author of 18 books, several of them best-sellers, translated into a dozen languages. He hosted daily radio and TV shows for almost 20 years, and is now a Contributing Columnist for the Toronto Star, and appears regularly in the Globe and Mail, The Walrus, ipolitics, CBC, TVOntario, The New Statesman, and numerous other publications in Canada and Britain. He has won numerous award and prizes across North America. He is a priest at St. Luke’s, Burlington, and also priest-in-charge at St. Elizabeth's, Burlington. His latest book is The Rebel Christ.

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