In Jesus’ day, there were probably as many contentious divisions, animosities and stereotypes as there are today. If “us vs them” talk is inflammatory now, it was undoubtedly also inflammatory then. Thus, when Jesus said these classifications that would separate the powerful, privileged, and in-crowd from all others were unimportant, he was treading on dangerous political ground. People at that time would undoubtedly have pushed back. What is more obvious, they might have asked, than differences between Jew and Gentile, slave and master, women and men? How dare this prophet named Jesus tell us that, in effect, God does not favor us more than them?
As natural as these sentiments may be, there are good reasons to avoid them. In Galatians, Jesus tells us not to demonize other groups of people. Jesus tells us we should be particularly uncomfortable when some folks use His name and quote Scripture to divide us and assert their own moral superiority. The Christmas story, in the person of Jesus, is one of reconciliation, not division.
Of course, evil exists. Of course, some people use religion to further their evil purposes. Of course, some awful and misguided people have singled out Christians for their indefensible and horrific acts. All the more reason to follow the One who would look past divisions and tell us we are all the same in God’s eyes, that our God cares for them as much as for us. No, God does not love evil. God loves people, and God always extends an invitation to those who have gone astray to mend their ways. And that’s a good thing for you and me. I need a God who forgives. I want a God who expects more of me. I trust you do, too.
When I anticipate seeing the baby Jesus during this Advent season, I expect to welcome a savior who would reconcile and heal. I expect to see a “balm in Gilead,” one who would make us and our neighbors whole. I expect to see a baby who will become a man and traffic with those that others avoid — with social outcasts and sinners.
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The Bible tells us the baby Jesus promises a kingdom dominated by mutual respect and love. To be sure, this is a world that will always be populated by Jews and Gentiles, the rich and the poor, men and women, but it is also one in which those differences, from a spiritual point of view, are not very important.
Scott Kretchmar is a retired Penn State Professor and is training to be a certified lay pastor in the Presbyterian Church.