[Episcopal News Service] The Occupy Baltimore encampment was dismantled recently. Police in riot gear evicted 40 or so protesters. There were no arrests. It was a peaceful end to a mostly peaceful demonstration. What the Occupy protests are about has confused some, but TIME magazine seems to think these demonstrations, coupled with the Arab spring events, are important enough to make “The Protester” its person of the year.
In church, as in society, there have been mixed reactions to the Occupy protesters. Some have called them hippies, bums, or worse. Some said they should spend their time getting work, becoming productive members of their communities. Others said they had no idea what moved folks to take up residence on the streets, some for months, to make their point. To be clear, economic justice is the reason for these Occupy protests – as was much of the ministry of Jesus.
Many efforts to end these protests took place during our celebration of Advent. We have been waiting, anticipating, hoping for one more time to get it: what does it mean for God to occupy human nature? This incarnation of God in human form is the heart of the Christian story and that calls us to live our lives differently.
Biblical accounts around Jesus’ birth focus on peace and good will or glad tidings. Sometimes overlooked is that the first witnesses were shepherds, a lowly and somewhat despised class of folks. It was a wandering couple seeking shelter to have a baby that an innkeeper directed to a barn. The creator of the universe begins occupying human form in a dirty, dusty, unsanitary stable. Certainly an inhospitable birth place for any human, let alone the savior of the world. Or so we think.
Throughout his life, Jesus identifies with the poor, prisoners, the oppressed, widows and orphans. His visit to a Nazareth synagogue early in Luke’s gospel gives us a pretty good indication where his heart was when he chose to read from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Lately I’ve begun wearing my red “Solidarnosc” lapel pin from the Polish trade union uprising in the ’80s. I see this as a way to be in solidarity with those who have occupied city parks and streets to call attention to economic injustice in the world. I see it as a way to support clergy who have been chaplains to the protesters. And it makes me think at this time of the coming Incarnation of God that Jesus would be with those who do not share justly in God’s bounty.
As Christmas comes again, I think we need to ask ourselves where Jesus would be in our community today. Where would Jesus choose to become incarnated? And how should we be in solidarity with Jesus; the Jesus born in a barn, who always championed the poor and oppressed, who overturned tables protesting a Temple system discriminating against those who had little?
If we claim our role as Christ’s hands and heart in this world, if we allow Jesus to occupy us body, mind and spirit, then maybe we should not be afraid to champion the cause of Occupy protesters and find Jesus this Christmas with those seeking an end to economic injustice in our world.
— The Rev. Canon Dan Webster is canon for evangelism and ministry development in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.