Advent 2023: What Jesusā€™ Birth Story Means Today

advent faith jesus justice Dec 18, 2023
By Rev. Hazel M. Cherry



This Advent Season, I have been unable to shake parallels in Jesus’ birth story, to that of the many children, mothers, and families whose lives are in threat in Sudan, Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, and the most visible genocide in Gaza. Jesus’ birthplace is presently under occupation.


Jesus’ birth story reminds us that God is near to those in suffering and even the lowliest among us. God in flesh came to us as a Palestinian Jew, through an unwed mother, and he was not born in a palace, nor in the comforts of a home, but in a barn. He came to us, close to the earth and the land and animals. Our Christmas children’s plays include acknowledgements of land and animals, yet we often take the earth for granted.


So much of our theology and scriptural interpretations grant us permission to see ourselves above nature. Yet, Jesus comes to us connected to earth and animals. This is not only affirmation of our connectedness to the land in which we inhabit, but also to count even the lowest among us as precious.


After Jesus was born, his parents travelled to Egypt as refugees because of King Herod who made an order to kill male children (Matthew 2:6). Threatened by Jesus, he makes this order to ensure he does not live. How similar this image rings in my mind to what we’re witnessing today. The images of dead children in the news, from Gaza to my local neighborhood, prompt me to beg the questions: 


To whom are we leaving the earth, if our children don’t make it to adulthood? What is the role and purpose of climate justice or any other kind of justice if our children’s lives are disposable?


The point of creating change is to ensure present and future generations reap the benefits. As a fairly new mother, daily I watch my child in awe of his growth and his innate goodness. And I recognize that as a little Black boy this world already has so many opinions and expectations of him. Likewise, Jesus’ life and its impact was foretold and a community of people were awaiting his arrival and had expectations for his life. Jesus did in fact change the world forever.


From a political view, Jesus’ birth story reminds us that empires and their leaders filled with greed will do whatever it takes to maintain power. And like Mary and Joseph we can do something to protect our children and our community.


At Green The Church we mobilize and empower the Black faith community for sustainability and climate justice. Our communities are often the ones most impacted by natural disasters. Toxic facilities are deliberately sited where we live.  Many of our people, particularly in rural and urban areas, cannot readily access fresh food. However, nestled within these communities are God’s precious people—children who deserve all the goodness life has to offer. Every child deserves fresh air, clean water, fresh food, and to be seen as a beacon of hope. Churches have a unique opportunity to become resource (energy) hubs providing power to their communities, and by doing so dismantling some of the structural powers that seek to destroy us.


One of the names for Jesus is Emmanuel, meaning “God with us”. Jesus' birth is the ultimate reminder that God is with us. So, why don’t we let every child be a reminder that God is with us. That God is still speaking to us, and wants to lead us into a future beyond what we’re presently facing.


God is present with us in the toughest of seasons, situations, and challenges. In my personal favorite Christmas song, “Someday at Christmas” by Stevie Wonder, the opening lyrics read as such, “Someday at Christmas men won’t be boys playing with guns like kids play with toys. One warm December our hearts will see a world where men {all} are free.” This Advent season my hope and my joy rests in knowing that Jesus’ birth signifies that someday we can and will all be free, especially the most marginalized among us.