It has been an interesting year for ‘empowerment’. Last December, the world started to see citizen movements that began to change the world. Mohamed Bouazizi’s vegetable cart and scales were seized by police. He was an otherwise unemployed citizen of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia just trying to make a living. He appealed to the local governor’s office to get his wares returned. No one would even see him. The humiliation of this act drove him to a very public suicide as he set himself on fire. “How am I supposed to make a living?” he screamed as he lit the match in the street outside of the governor’s office. Within days, protests over Bouazizi’s death in Sidi Bouzid had grown into a revolution throughout Tunisia. Change was gaining momentum.
The Arab Spring which can be said began in Sidi Bouzid has spread and brought about changes in government in Tunisia, Egypt and Lybia. Not surprisingly, leaders and governments in many ‘western’ democracies (including the United States and Canada) were encouraged by these grassroots civil rights movements. Many other nations in the region have been caught up in the warming of this desire to not allow corruption and violence and societal compliance to be the sole access points of power. Change is gaining momentum.
Then this past September, a similar sentiment surfaced in North America, as a group of grass roots protestors pledged to Occupy Wall Street in NYC. Inspired by similar actions in Kuala Lumpur and Spain in the summer, a rag-tag gathering of citizens occupied a south Manhattan park to bring awareness to issues of social inequality. The vagueness and broad nature of the concerns have made it hard for opponents to cohesively argue against them. There may be breaches in civic bylaws, but it seems that the civic lessons have made politicians reluctant to enforce those rules. Like the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement (or American Spring as it has been called by some Middle Eastern news organizations) has spread to many cities across the continent and around the world. Even colder weather and forced evacuations and violent incidents have not cooled off the desire for a change in the way people can and should relate to each other and to the wider society. Change is gaining momentum.
There may have been a time (as recently as a half a century ago) that Christianity was so ingrained into our society locally that celebrating the true meaning of Christmas made easy for the church. Regardless of an official freedom of religion, church attendance was almost expected – the church had it made. But, the days of ease are over for us; and I say ‘good riddance’. Now if we want an experience of the true meaning of Christmas, we have to want it bad enough to seek it out!
For many years, churches have laments the increase of the secular December celebrations – the increase emphasis on jolly old elves rather than babes in swaddling clothes has been met with complaints that things have changed too much. All that’s changed is that the church no longer can be lazy about its own practices and beliefs. Our context has changed and so must we.
If we want Christ in our Christmas, we have to invite Jesus to our party. That’s within our power. We simply need to be empowered. Let us, as followers of the Prince of Peace, occupy not the city square, but let us occupy this ‘time’ and our ‘hearts’ with that which reminds us of God’s deep love for us that God’s own child shared our existence: Word became Flesh. Jesus was not a member of ruling or economic elite, but he changed people, one life at a time. Each life changed because, each one became aware of a real spiritual connection to ‘the source of all that is’. May it be so for us! Child of Bethlehem, occupy our hearts!