Christmas decorations light the streets. Malls are full. Christmas music fills the air.
But this year, there is a somber undercurrent to the celebration. We will all hug our children a little harder. Our hearts will be in our throats as they go out to play. After the horror of Newtown, we remember how precious and how vulnerable they are in a country that is drowning in guns.
Some good news can be told, however. Violent crime, teenage pregnancy, binge drinking and cigarette smoking are down. Yet, one in five children in the U.S. is now living in poverty — up dramatically over the course of the past decade.
More are obtaining a college degree, but more find themselves unable to afford higher education. And too many are at risk from guns and violence. We can do better for them.
This year, the real story of Christmas — the mass we celebrate on the birth of Christ — has more power than ever.
The real story isn’t about a holiday; it is about a holy day. It’s about two parents summoned from their home, forced to return to register so the occupier could count them.
They had no place to stay. One brief look and the innkeeper announced there was no room at the inn. The baby was born in the cold, in a working barn, set in a rough manger on a straw floor.
This was a child at risk.
Like today, those were not normal times. Poverty and violence were spread through the land. The sufferers began to expect a change. Prophets predicted that a mighty messiah would come — a king of kings — to free the oppressed.
But this messiah wasn’t a powerful warrior wielding mighty armaments. He led disciples, not armies. He sought to preach good news to the poor.
He was the Prince of Peace, not a man in arms. He never lifted a sword nor carried a shield, never held an office nor amassed a fortune, yet his gospel overturned an empire and transformed the world.
He taught us the power of love and hope and charity.
Christmas should be a time when we hear this message. Faith is stronger than the sword. We do not have to accept a nation where 6-year-olds and their protective teachers are mowed down by a sick man armed with an assault rifle. We don’t have to let the gun lobby keep us from insisting that no gun should be sold without a background check.
We don’t have to accept a country of Gilded Age inequality where poor children go without adequate nutrition, where promising students cannot afford the education that they have earned.
We don’t have to emulate Rome and seek to police the world.
This Christmas, let each of us take a moment for the real story.
Let us take stock, not of the presents we give or get, but of how we treat the young in the dawn of life, the poor in the pit of life, the elderly in the dusk of life, the stranger on the Jericho Road.
Let’s commit ourselves to bringing peace to Bethlehem.
This year, more than ever, we will hug our children and hold them close and remember that they are the true measure of our wealth. This year, we will remember that the presents the Wise Men brought weren’t the real gift; the real gift was the child himself, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.