In a recent broadcast of "The Prairie Home Companion", humorist Garrison Keiller told a story about a preacher who gave an Advent sermon in which he so earnestly spoke of God sending his Son to save us that he sounded like he really believed it -- so much so that he made his congregation feel somewhat uneasy (to which story the theater audience itself seemed to give a rather nervous laugh). That got me wondering -- among all the holiday hoopla, sugar-plum sentimentalism, and crass commercialism, can we really say that we believe the birth of Jesus has made, or at least should have made, a difference in our world?
One would think that as the second millennium of Christianity finally grinds to a close and the third millennium officially begins, perhaps it is time again to take stock of things, especially here in the United States of America which for the most part seems to like to think of itself as a nation founded upon and dedicated to Judeo- Christian -- that is biblical -- beliefs and standards.
Can we still lay claim to this boast? If one looks with any objectivity at our present record, it hardly seems so. With one of the highest drug-addiction rates in the world, a higher proportion of people in prison than almost any country you can name save the former Soviet Union, with about a fifth of its population without affordable health care, and with an ever-growing gap between the excessively rich and the abysmally poor, and one of the few developed nations that still carries out executions -- again, mostly of the poor -- one might judge our extraordinarily high church attendance as being either, at best, a sign of a deep awareness for our need for forgiveness, or, at worst, a massive exercise in hypocrisy and self-indulgence.
If this recent election has been any indication, I'm afraid
that the latter is more the case. During the campaign, one could listen to the
major party candidates prate on forever about the needs of the "middle
class" as if, by wonder of wonders, you could have a
"middle" without there being a bottom or lower class that
should occupy our concerns. And that was just on the domestic scene. One
listened in vain for any serious or prolonged discussion about
Nevertheless, I'm not without hope. Sooner or later, even whole nations, if they last long enough, somehow manage to grow up. Perhaps it has been our biblically-inspired idealism that has duped us into thinking we were somehow different from the rest of humanity. Recent events have certainly proved otherwise. Once we are made to recognize that, then maybe we can finally come to grips with our need for redemption and the realization that the same Gospels that teach us that Christ who came to this world so long ago as its savior warn us that he will surely come again as its judge.