The Christmas holiday, along with other religious celebrations of the coming new year, are at risk of being overshadowed by the very public — and politically charged — questions regarding tax reform, international conflict, domestic policy and civic virtue. These seemingly secular matters may appear unrelated to the babe in Bethlehem that so many in the Christian world remember and celebrate this time of year.
And, yet, Jesus Christ’s life, message and ministry are uniquely tailored to these times.
After all, Joseph and Mary first traveled to Bethlehem to be taxed. It was government-initiated violence that caused them to flee as refugees to Egypt. The contemporary challenges this world faces were, in fact, the challenges faced by Christ from a very early age.
Issues surrounding poverty, health care and moral virtue may appear to be modern phenomena, but it was Christ who administered to the sick, the sinner and the impoverished, teaching others to do the same. Even amid personal challenges, Christ evinced hope, faith and goodness. He was incarcerated, mistreated by his own government and eventually crucified. In all this he never called on his followers to incite violence. Rather, he returned good for evil, healing the ear of one of his afflicters and pleading with God to show mercy on those who took his life.
In a competitive world where existence is often framed in terms of survival and victory at the expense of individuals, the simple teachings of Christ aim to conquer evil, defeat death and overcome personal demons. As the world’s challenges recycle with each new epoch, Christ’s revolutionary life remains as relevant as it was nearly two millennia ago.
Indeed, if Christ and his followers maintained hope and faith amid the lows of his times, surely this season can bring a renewed spirit regarding society's contemporary challenges. So much has changed since then, and yet so much remains the same.
While modern technology has superseded that of any previous generation in a way that makes the past almost unrecognizable, one could argue that mankind has not always made similar advances in dealing with the conflicts that beset today's world.
It is precisely at this time of year that historical reflection can bring a heightened sense of security and hope as the world confronts an uncertain future. With each person’s particular set of private problems, the doctrine of Christ offers the world a path that starts within each soul to change the world for the better.
When individuals apply Christ’s teachings about faith, hope and charity — the ultimate alternative to a world perpetually in conflict — they can indeed find “peace on earth, good will toward men.”