Left Justified: The true reason for the season

The real Christmas scandal this year is not the controversy at shopping malls about saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” The real Christmas scandal is the U.S. budget proposed by the House of Representatives that cuts food stamps, health care, child support, and educational assistance to low-income families—further lowering taxes for the rich while increasing the deficit for our grandchildren.

That was the message a group of Christians brought to the steps of the Congress last week. The day was cold, but the message was clear, as hundreds of people who daily serve the poor got arrested.

After a yearlong effort by people of faith to teach our nation’s political leaders “a budget is a moral document,” 115 were arrested for kneeling in prayer, praying for the poor at the steps of the Cannon House Office Building. The congressmen were not impressed.

The group of faith activists tried to invite members of Congress to meet the people who will be most impacted by their votes on a budget that virtually assaults low-income families. The protesters sounded like a choir (and a good one at that) as they sang Christmas carols while being arrested, handcuffed, put into buses, and taken to a large holding cell roughly a mile away.

Many of those who took part in the prayerful and nonviolent civil disobedience were from groups such as the Christian Community Development Association, whose members around the country live and work alongside poor people every day. Their founder, John Perkins—at 75—was one of the oldest people arrested. Also arrested was Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine.

The text they kept repeating at the Capitol Christmas vigil was from the book of Luke—the best words ever about the true meaning of the coming of the Christ child. Mary, the mother of Jesus, herself a poor woman from an oppressed race and an occupied country, prophesied in her powerful prayer of thanksgiving—the Magnificat—about the Messiah whom she carried in her womb.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Though in Washington, D.C., Mary would be accused of class warfare for uttering such words, they still bear the true meaning of Christmas. And the budget and tax cuts being proposed by House leaders reverse the priorities of Mary. Instead of filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty, this budget would fill the rich with good things and send the hungry away empty!

So yesterday, on the House office steps, these Christians tried to put Christ back into Christmas.

The bipartisan Senate budget bill, in contrast, protects low-income families, and yesterday senators passed resolutions vowing not to cut food stamps and Medicaid in the final budget negotiations with the House. They should be thanked and urged to stand firm.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, no matter what you say, please do what God says: help the poor, don’t kill, be a peacemaker. And you will make the Baby Jesus happy.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Dec. 21-27, 2005, issue

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