Commenting on the activities of the early church, Roman Emperor Julian said, “The godless Galileans feed our poor in addition to their own.”*
Oh to be known as Godless Galileans who feed others – regardless of who they belong to!
Maybe that seems an odd statement as Christmas looms ever nearer. Don’t get me wrong, I remain grounded in my fractured and hopeful faith that Jesus is Lord. But I’m not too sure what that means for most of the people in my community. Do they associate it with years of institutional church? Or perhaps with Sunday morning hymn fests? Maybe people see it as an anti-science position? More often than not I’m met with a quizzical look as if I’m an interesting, if not slightly old world curio.
I’m not interested in ditching the church and taking up a career in social services (God bless those who do!). I am interested in being a part of the church that proclaims Jesus by feeding the poor, walking with those in need and listening to those who are often silenced.
All pretty words – and standard Uniting church fare.
But in the last two weeks I been challenged to put my money where my liturgy is. On at least six separate occasions I have been asked if Hope Uniting Church was running a Christmas Day program this year. Of course I replied, our service is at 9am. That was not what I was being asked. A Christmas breakfast for any and everyone in the local community? A big festive lunch for all those with nowhere to go? What if the church didn’t just sing “Joy to the World” this year, but threw open its doors and served up a big slice of Christmas pudding joy for all those left by themselves.
If, as Matthew reminds us, Jesus is named as “God with us” (Emmanuel) – how do we live together in a way that manifests that? Not God-with-me (in the church), nor God-with-you (please take my pamphlet), but God with us – In relationship, care and conversation?
It’s too late for us to organise something at Hope Uniting for this year’s Christmas Day. So I will happily sing “Joy to the world” and enjoy the beautiful seafood lunch with my family over that long and lazy afternoon. But as I do, I’ll be giving thanks for those like Wayside Chapel who will be feeding the masses on Christmas Day – and I will be dreaming of what might be for Hope Uniting next year…
* [Cited in “Common Prayer” by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro]