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The birth of Jesus in a manger should lead Christians to value the lives of children everywhere—and the love they share with their mothers and fathers. But it doesn’t. Baby Jesus is different from everyone else. Look at his birth story. Born of a virgin. Announced by “an angel of the Lord,” with “a multitude of the heavenly host” also “praising God.” Even a star in the East to guide wise men to his manger.
And don’t let that manger fool you. Jesus ended up in Cathedrals– and in creches displayed near almost every thoroughfare of the status quo. He was bigger than life. Changed water into wine. Cast out demons. Healed blind men. The miracles demonstrating his supernatural power. His resurrection the climax, proving his unique divine exceptionalism—and that of “those who believe in his name.” (John 1: 12) His name is the password to heaven.
Sure, there were prophecies that Jesus would transform the world with “peace” and “good will.” But when his followers became legitimized by the state, the powers that be transformed them—and him—into their likeness. The result: their—and his—accommodation to, rather than transformation of, the state.
Jesus’ traditional followers find their authority in his divinity. Yet, the more divine he is made out to be, the less human—and inclusive– he becomes. This contradiction is seen in his supposed own recorded words. He taught his followers a fundamental commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 39) But after his assumed resurrection, he is reported as giving his followers an apparently opposing commandment: “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28: 18, 19)
From loving your neighbor as yourself to wanting your neighbor to be like yourself. From empathizing with one’s neighbor to evangelizing him and her. From calling other people by their own name to baptizing them in another’s name. From relationships to ritualizing. From social solidarity to sectarian domination. From an equalitarian to an imperialistic gospel. From inclusiveness to exceptionalism. When Christianity became recognized by the state and gained authority on earth– and not merely in heaven– it took an imperialistic turn.
The manger is a long way from Ferguson– and beyond. That manger child should lead us to embrace Michael Brown’s father, who, as reported, was “overcome with anguish” and “screamed out in pain as the casket carrying his 18-year-old son was lowered into the ground today in front of thousands of mourners in Normandy, Missouri, six day after the unarmed teen was gunned by a white policeman.” (“’We’ve had enough of the senseless killings’: Michael Brown’s father screams out in pain . . . ,” By Associated Press and Helen Pow for MAILONLINE, Aug. 25, 2014)
That manger child should lead us to embrace the Ohio mother of black 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot dead by “emotionally immature”-described white police officer Timothy Loehmann, less than two seconds after Loehmann arrived at the playground where Tamir, all alone, was playing with a fake gun. (“Cleveland cop who shot 12-year-old slammed for ‘immaturity’ in past job,” By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN.com, Dec. 5, 2014) In the memorial program for Tamir’s funeral service, his mother, Samaria Rice wrote, “I try and cope the best I can, but I’m missing you so much. . . . If I could only see you and once more feel your touch.” (“Funeral held for Cleveland boy with pellet gun shot by police,” By Kim Palmer, Reuters.com, Dec. 3, 2014)
That manger child should lead us to embrace Esaw Garner, Eric Garner’s widow, who rejected the apology of white Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo. He kept a chokehold on her husband even as he is heard saying 11 times, “I can’t breathe,” before dying. When asked if she accepted Pantaleo’s apology, Mrs. Garner said, “Hell, no. . . . He’s still working, he’s still getting a paycheck, he’s still feeding his kids, and my husband is six feet under.” She said that her husband “should be celebrating Thanksgiving and everything else with his children and grandchildren. And he is not. Why? Because a cop did wrong. . . . Who is going to play Santa Claus for my grandkids.?” For her, “This fight ain’t over. It’s just begun. I’m determined to get justice for my husband.” Perhaps it was the pain of her husband’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” that led her to declare, “As long as I have a breath in my body . . . I will fight the fight to the end.” (“Eric Garner’s Wife Lashes Out at Cop Who Killed Her Husband,” By Meghan Keneally via WORLD NEWS, abcNEWS, Dec. 3, 2014)
It is a long way from that manger to Ferguson and Cleveland and New York—and beyond. But that baby in the manger actually does reveal the pathway to “peace” and “good will”– and justice. Not his presumed divinity. But his humanness, which is shared by every child—and adult—everywhere. A humanness that is not inherently sinful and in need of the absolution the Church presumes it alone can provide– which is a means of indoctrinating and gaining power over people. A humanness that transcends religion, race, nationality, political ideology and sexual orientation. A humanness that opens the door to empathy, solidarity and community.
That child in the manger—like every child and mother and father everywhere– reveals there is nothing in anyone else that is foreign to us, and nothing in us that is foreign to anyone else. We are all human together. All of us respond to love and justice —and are thereby able to become loving and just. All of us laugh and cry and love and grieve. That manger’s message of our shared universal humanness can help us humanize ourselves, and most importantly those we fear and demonize as The Other, in Ferguson—and beyond.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His new book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is now published and available on Amazon.com. The book’s Foreword, Drawing the Line, is written by Counterpunch editor, Jeffrey St. Clair. Alberts is also author of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.