What is the Christmas Message? Many ideas are afloat, but the Gospel scene does speak for itself. God chooses an image of absence, a lack, instead of fullness and abundance. Poverty is the first of the evangelical counsels, and it speaks to us starkly in the Christmas scene. Detachment is the word that gives meaning to poverty.
An article in the Kyeongyang magazine reminds us of the place of poverty within the Church. He quotes Pope Francis in his talk to the bishops of Korea on Aug. 14th of last year. "There is a danger, a temptation which arises in times of prosperity: it is the danger that the Christian community becomes just another 'part of society', losing its mystical dimension... When this happens, the poor no longer have their proper role in the Church. This is a temptation from which particular Churches, Christian communities, have suffered greatly over the centuries; in some cases, they become so middle class that the poor even feel ashamed to be a part of them. It is the temptation of spiritual 'prosperity', pastoral prosperity. No longer is it a poor church for the poor but rather a rich church for the rich, or a middle class church for the well-to-do."
Why does the Church have to be poor? This question he attempts to answer, using the words of a priest who began a committee to work with the poor in the Seoul Diocese.
1) Jesus was poor.
2) At the beginning of his public life, he chooses absolute poverty.
3) He wanted those that possessed and those that did not, to share.
4) He wanted his disciples to be poor.
5) The Eucharist is an invitation to poverty.
When the Church is not poor it participates in the corruption and injustices of society and becomes an accomplice. It borrows strength from the world and works with their principles.
"Religion, of course does bring large profits, but only to those who are content with what they have. We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it; but as long as we have food and clothing, let us be content with that. People who long to be rich are a prey to temptations; they get trapped into all sorts of foolishness and dangerous ambitions, which eventually plunge them into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all evils and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith and so given their souls any number of fatal wounds" (1 Tim. 6: 6-10).
Heavy words to hear at this time of year when we want to make people happy, and enjoy the many gifts we have received. Jesus was laid in a manger, a trough used to feed animals. Mentioned three times in Luke's Gospel, not an insignificant word, and full of meaning; the only word to describe Jesus' birth location. We may easily be distracted with the stable and animals and forget the message Luke was giving us. Blessed Christmas.