Christmas in a Time of Financial Crisis

by Francis MacNutt
Dec 2008

Many of you are suffering grievous financial hardship these days, so you are in special need of hearing God’s word during the hard times at this Christmas. Usually, we think about Christmas in connection with laughter, gifts and feasts. We love to think back on that first Christmas when Jesus was born, surrounded by the joy of the kneeling shepherds and the angels singing, “Alleluia, Glory to God in the Highest.”

But there is another deeper appreciation of Christmas that marvels at how God chose for Jesus to be born into the worst, most abject circumstances—a prophetic prelude to how he would die on the cross.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!   —Phil. 2:6

Can you imagine what Mary’s relatives thought about her being an unwed mother? Even her beloved spouse Joseph thought of “putting her away.” What would Mary have felt at this abandonment? Only later was Joseph convinced by an angel in a dream that Jesus was conceived by the Spirit. Aside from her cousin Elizabeth, she was alone. And Elizabeth didn’t even live in the same town.

Then, when Mary was pregnant, just about ready to give birth, she and Joseph were forced to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, because the Roman occupiers gave orders to enroll in the census. These orders were issued so that the Romans could make up a list so that Joseph and his relatives could be taxed. They couldn’t even find lodging in a cheap inn, and they ended up in the equivalent of a garage. No ordinary birth at home, but this birth had to take place without a physician or midwife to help—just Joseph.

>After the birth, they laid the newborn Jesus in a “manger,” which sounds romantic, but it simply means that his first crib was a feeding trough (manger is French for to eat) for animals. “Swaddling clothes” also makes it sound respectable, but that just means that a first-century diaper was used to wrap Jesus. We use these unfamiliar words to hide the stark, unromantic scene that God set for Jesus’ birth. Born on the road, a member of a despised, captive people who had to walk (are we even sure there was a donkey?) to take part in the census, whose purpose was to help the Romans to better tax the oppressed Jews.

Put yourself in Joseph’s place­­­—an embarrassing position for him to be unable to take care of Mary. He can’t even rent a room to spend the night. No birthing suite for Jesus. No one around to celebrate the birth, until God sends the angels and shepherds to brighten the poverty and welcome Jesus’ birth. And then, a short time later, Herod’s soldiers are on the hunt to kill Jesus, and his little family has to flee to Egypt to live for a time as exiles.

In spite of its poverty, that first Christmas is a deeper consolation for us than if Jesus’ birthday had been an occasion for the jolly time we expect in our own Christmas celebration. Jesus’ birth shows us that God is with us; no matter how dark, how bleak our situation, God will be our companion in it. God does not promise us wealth or freedom from trials, but he gives us strength to survive by going through them with us. “Emmanuel”—God with us.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. —2 Cor. 4:8-12,17-18

Everyone seems to agree that greed is the spiritual root cause of our present financial disaster. Unfortunately, much recent preaching promises us financial prosperity, but the real message of Christianity is that we are in a battle: the God who was able to choose the circumstances into which Jesus should be born, decided upon the simplest, humblest situation possible, so that we might have a companion (Jesus) and an example in overcoming the evils of this fallen world. To our amazement, God, in Jesus, became one of us, through the power of the Spirit.
Never give in then, … never admit defeat, keep on working at the Lord’s work always, knowing that, in the Lord, you cannot be laboring in vain.
—1 Cor. 15:58

In celebrating this confident hope, we wish you a peaceful Christmas.

Francis,
with Judith, Rachel and David


 

A Word to You When Finances Fail
Father Gerald Vann, O.P.

To be poor in spirit is to be … open-handed, to be not too much exercised about legitimate worldly purposes, to be, on the contrary, care-free about success or failure, because whichever it is, it comes from God. To be poor in spirit is to have a childlike trust in Providence, and so to be freed from fear.

To be grasping and possessive is to live always in anxiety and fear of loss; to live in the eternal present is to live in the love that drives out fear. Nihil me separabit—nothing can separate us from love, if love is not what we have, but what we are...

You must be care-free about everything that you have, material or otherwise. All the gifts that God gives us are things for which we must care and yet not care; we are only stewards. You have your own particular gifts and talents, of body and mind and heart: you must be open-handed with them, use them in your love and service of the world, and use them as God’s gifts to you, so that you do not mind if what he has given he should take away: it is not your business; you are only a steward…

Father Vann was an English Dominican and a popular preacher, lecturer, and author. He died in 1963.

 

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Dec 2008 Issue