This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Christmas: Good news for the less than 99 percenters

David Araujo is pastor of Iglesia del Buen Pastor in Goshen, Ind. He has been happily married to Sonia N. Araujo for 20 years. They have three children: Samuel, 13, and twins, Kevin and Krystal, 12.

By now most of us find ourselves well within the spirit of Christmas. Christmas day is finally here and the Advent season has helped to make us ready to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The birth of baby Jesus was good news for the world, especially the poor.

As I think about the general reason for God sending His son into the world, I cannot help but think of John 3:16 which states, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The more specific reasons for the birth of Jesus are included in Isaiah’s prophecy found in chapter 61. In this messianic prophecy, we are told that Jesus has been anointed with the express purpose of preaching the good news to the poor, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom to the captives, releasing the captives from darkness and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.

There can be no doubt from these verses of Scripture that God loves the whole world and that the poor are near and dear to His heart.

Who are the poor that God deeply cares about? In first century Palestine, there were the rich at the top, followed by the artisans and small peasants who were slightly better off than the poor. Finally, there were the poor and the unemployed who had no other choice but to beg or become servants or slaves due to crushing taxation that often led them to default on family debts. These included the sick, the lepers, the orphans, widows and the disabled who managed to survive by begging for food. In the Old Testament, the poor were typically farmers and people of the land who were oppressed and, “cried out for justice.” In some cases, they resorted to violence in order to attain some relief from their plight.

It is no surprise then, that in the Gospel narrative of Luke, the first people to receive news of the birth of the Messiah were not the rich, the well-to-do or those with any connections to power and influence. Luke 2:8 tells us that a heavenly host of angels announced the birth of Jesus to “shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” The shepherds certainly belonged to the humble lower class that was included among the poor. God continues to bring good news to the poor in the angelic message to the shepherds.

And what can we say about the place and conditions under which Jesus was born? There was no room at the inn and so he was born in the lowliest of places, a manger in a stable. Born among beasts of burden and placed in a trough, a feeder made of carved stone.

Who are the poor in our context today? Who are those people that God directs us to preach the good news to and bind their broken hearts?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “In 2014, the official poverty rate was 14.8 percent. There were 46.7 million people in poverty.” The federal government defines the poverty line as a family of four earning $23,550. According to these estimates, even the 99%, which includes all households with incomes less than $343,927 cannot be considered the poor of today—they are the well-to-do.

While we can affirm that Jesus loves the whole world, we can also continue to affirm that the “less than 99 percenters” remain near and dear to God’s heart.

May we not feel that all is well with our souls and that we have truly celebrated Christmas if we do not reach out to the poor this Christmas season. The food pantry at the church is almost empty, giving evidence that families this holiday season have been struggling to make ends meet. The poor are all around us and our love and company, along with some basic necessities from you and I, will be good news to them.

Thanks for following The Mennonite’s Advent series. Read all Advent 2015 reflections.

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