The First Noel

The first Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields as they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

I haven’t written very much about religion lately, though it may surprise some to know that religious blogging used to be my little niche in the blogging world. Still, as I read that the Salvation Army is falling short of its red kettle goals across the country – here at home as well as elsewhere – I can’t help but think that we’ve all missed the point. We spend more and more every holiday season, this year’s disappointment over a 2.8% increase in consumer spending not withstanding. Why can we increase consumer spending by 2.8% but fall short in caring for the poor?

What will Jesus have to say to us about our consumer spending versus our charitable donations? I think he might be a little bit disappointed in our 2.8% growth too, but for very different reasons than Wall Street. It might go something like this: “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45).

This news also calls to mind the usual argument made by religious conservatives against a social safety net. They argue that requiring people to care for the poor by taxation and the democratic redistribution of wealth deprives them of the capacity to freely give. That may well be true, but what happens in situations such as this when they don’t freely give? Are we supposed to just explain to the poor that it’s too bad we can’t help them, but the wealthy weren’t in the mood for giving this year? Situations such as this one remind us why a social safety net is so important, and why our own lax safety net in this country should be expanded.

“The first Noel the angel did say / was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay.” With all the talk about hot button issues like gay and lesbian equality, reproductive rights, etc., it’s easy to forget in today’s religious climate that Jesus’ number one issue was “none of the above.” Jesus Christ came to bring good tidings to the poor. This Christmas season, his followers here in America need to take an honest look at themselves and ask how well they’re doing in bringing his good tidings to the poorest among us today.

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