Christmas in the midst of a climate crisis

The other day I watched a Youtube video of the World Council of Churches Christmas message, given by its General Secretary Rev. Samuel Kobia who in his reflection on the 1st chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians he lamented:

Christmas is a season to sing praises, yet in our time the reality of environmental destruction undermines the doxology of creation. The singing of the spheres is obscured by pollution and manufactured noise, the rhythms of the sea are disturbed by climate change, the beauty of many manifestations of life is disfigured by abusive practices rooted in greed. And as the earth suffers, so must its inhabitants. Already, the poor and other socially marginalized people find it ever more difficult to lift their voices in song. 1
Writing from a post-Copenhagen Summit state of mind I cannot do anything more than silently nod in agreement and whisper: “how true…”

Christmas after the Copenhagen Summit

Today, all around the world Christians from all walks of life are celebrating Christmas –and here in the Philippines for many Christmas won’t be as jubilant as the last year. Economic downturn and the immediate impacts of conflict and recently extreme weather events have robbed most of us of our property, our sense of security and of the lives of the ones we love. Thus Christmas here at one of the ‘most vulnerable and least prepared’ countries to face the ravages of climate change – the let down of the cop-out of world leaders in Copenhagen –is one of disheartenment.

The Philippines like many other island nations contributes to less than 1% of the world’s total carbon emissions, but is expected to be one of the countries to be hardest hit by the impacts of climate change. And around the world this scenarios is being repeated over and over. Poor countries are suffering disproportionately from the effects of human induced carbon emissions that mostly come from the developed nations. Whether it’s about water access, drought, flooding, vulnerability to more frequent and ever intensifying storms and other extreme weather events or exposure to diseases that the rising temperatures have encouraged to grow, the story remains the same: the poor people are yet have the means to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Christmas in the midst of climate change

In treatise about Jesus Christ, the late Monika Hellwig wrote:
Probably the most fundamental belief of Christians about Jesus of Nazareth is that he has come to the rescue in a hopeless situation. Christian faith begins with the experience that Jesus makes the difference.2
Indeed as one of the many people who went out to the streets who to implore our world leaders for a fair, ambitious and legally binding deal on climate change at the Copenhagen Summit –I was met with the frustrating realization that in the end, the rich industrialised countries which have the largest historic responsibility for causing climate change like United States failed to take any real leadership and dragged the talks down.

With this backdrop of disappointment climate activists (whether Christian or not) involved in the struggle for climate justice can draw inspiration in the message of Jesus’ coming into the world on the first Christmas morn, because for us Christians, the fundamental personification of God’s presence and merciful power in the world is found in the person of Christ. 3

Christ came in the midst of a time when all seemed lost –His coming into the world was marked with the reality of an empire asserting its rule over the nation of Israel, the genocide of innocents and constant uncertainty –but it is exactly during that time of ambiguity that God indeed came in the person of the infant Jesus who became the ‘Immanuel’ –God with us!

The coming of Jesus Christ is good news, exactly because it is a message that God cares about His creation and that He is not distant so as not to see, feel and know our plight –it is message that in Christ, God is enacting His desire for creation’s renewal. It is a message that things have to change. Not only in our inner attitudes but also that of our behavior and relationships and of our situations –this change goes not only in the affairs of individuals but also to that of the world and its structures and laws and distribution of goods. 4

In the coming of Jesus God tells us that: things must change, they can change and they will change, because the awe-inspiring God of creation wills and more so because Jesus who came to earth on the first Christmas day has already turned the tide of the destructive forces by his human response in the heart of the human situation.

Simply put: the Christmas message of Jesus’ coming when all seems lost is also the message that this Jesus Christ that we Christians proclaim is also the Immanuel who works in and thru us in our work of caring for creation in the midst of a catastrophically warming planet.

What does this mean for Christians?

I know of Christians who do not even believe in the reality of Climate Change, while there are also some who exclaim: “Praise the Lord!” at the site of the horrendous destruction of droughts, famines, floods and landslides –believing that they are signs of the times –indications of the nearness of kingdom come. Regardless, of our belief in climate change we Christians are mandated to care for creation and that this care is not something that we should do because we are commanded to –but because the Biblical witness says God saw that His creation is good5 and that God loves creation and that this love was manifested in the giving of Himself that was enacted in Christ becoming the God who is with us.

If we Christians truly believe in this reality then we should be dead serious in following this example of self-giving love that translates into actions that manifest our care and love for those things that the God we worship loves.

Therefore the Christmas story is not just a message of hope but also is also an aide-mémoire to care for important things that we should pay attention to like our planet.

Because if truly we recognize the authority of this God whom we worship we should look at the example of Christ not only as a matter of intellectual reaffirmation of belief that’s detached from human affairs which is the heart of the Gospel message.

As N.T. Wright brilliantly puts it:
The gospel is the announcement that Jesus is Lord – Lord of the world, Lord of the cosmos, Lord of the earth, of the ozone layer, of whales and waterfalls, of trees and tortoises. As soon as we get this right we destroy at a stroke the disastrous dichotomy that has existed in people’s minds between ‘preaching the gospel’ on the one hand and what used to be loosely called ‘social action’ or ‘social justice’ on the other. Preaching the gospel means announcing Jesus as Lord of the world; and unless we are prepared to contradict ourselves with every breath we take, we cannot make that announcement without seeking to bring that lordship to bear over every aspect of the world. There was a popular slogan some years ago, according to which ‘if Jesus is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.’ That was routinely applied to personal piety and commitment. I suggest that it is just as true, and just as important, in terms of the cosmic Lordship of Jesus. 6

Have a blessed Christmas.

1 Kobia, Samuel. Christmas Message 2009 from the World Council of Churches general secretary
2 Hellwig, Monika. Understanding Catholicism. (Divine Word 1987) p.59
3 Ibid
4 Ibid5
5 Genesis 1
6 Wright, Tom. What Saint Paul Really Said. (Lion Publishing 1997). pp.153-54

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