This season, more than any other, is a celebration of the triumph of Christianity as a religion and as a cultural phenomenon. It is celebrated far and wide by people, many of whom are not believers and some of whom view it as another product of western cultural imperialism .
For my family Christmas has not been quite the same since my mother’s death some years ago around the holidays. Things are simple different for us, and for me the rampant commercialization of the holiday is much more apparent than it was when Christmas was a festival not only of the birth of Christ, but also of my mother’s birth and of my own. (She was born on Christmas, and I was born on the 27th). So the holiday has taken on new dimensions for me and occupied new space in my faith life.
I read today the story of Jesus’ birth from Holy Scripture and was inspired again by the reading. That God would condescend to be born of human parents in an obscure place to insignificant people is truly miraculous. The humanity of the birth is even more apparent when you read of his early status as a refugee . He knows what it is to be the lowest of the low; to be despised and rejected. His birth and life make sense of my own identity as a Black man in a world where White is right .
Beyond that I was inspired by reading from Eusebius on the history of the early church wherein he recounts the sufferings of some of the early martyrs of our faith. He quotes in his writings a letter from the Gallic churches and in it I found a man whose testimony I desire to be my own. His name was Sanctus.
Sanctus was another who with magnificent, superhuman courage nobly withstood the entire range of human cruelty. Wicked people hoped that with the persistence and severity of his tortures would force him to utter something improper, but with such determination did he stand up to their onslaughts that he would not tell them his own name, race, and birthplace, or whether he was slave or free; to every question he replied in Latin: “I am a Christian.” This he proclaimed over and over again, instead of name, birthplace, nationality, and everything else, and not another word did the heathen hear from him…
But his poor body was a witness to what he had suffered – it was all one wound and bruise, bent up and robbed of outward human shape, but, suffering in that body, Christ accomplished most glorious things, utterly defeating the adversary and proving as an example to the rest that where the Father’s love is nothing can frighten us, where Christ’s glory is nothing can hurt us.
This story is powerful, because it is our story. It is the story of my brothers and sisters in the faith who I will one day meet in the glory of Christ’s kingdom. It is the story of those who even now suffer persecution for his name . It is a story that reminds us that Christianity was not, and is not in its essence a triumphal faith. It is the faith of the despised, the rejected, the lost, the least and the left out. We are followers of a dirt poor Messiah who suffered a criminals death. So may we all be found as we endeavor to live as believers of every nation, tribe, tongue, and kindred – may we be found to live daily that confession: We are Christians.