Leading up to the event of the birth of Jesus, as the gospeller Luke tells the story, is an interesting dilemma of Joseph, the husband of the mother of Jesus, which only the gospeller, Matthew, includes in his account.
‘When [Jesus] mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son.’ (Matthew 1:18-21, 24-25)
The difficulty for Joseph wasn’t so much that she was pregnant before they were married, but that she was pregnant at all; he knew he wasn’t the father, because he had not had marital relations with her. One can’t help wondering what might have happened if Jesus had come today. Options include: the same response, forgiving his partner for her infidelity and accepting the child as his own; doing a runner and leaving her with the responsibility of the child; staying together, but having the pregnancy terminated; or, doing a runner and leaving the mother to terminate the pregnancy. It saddens me, in the modern context, rarely does anyone consider continuing with the pregnancy and then putting the child up for adoption.
The ease at which our society can support the termination of an unplanned pregnancy and unwanted child, simply because it is not convenient at this point in time, suggests that we are losing our value on humanity.
The recent boat wreck and drowning of up to 30 men, women and children refugees off Christmas Islandis a stark contrast to this growing decline in value of humanity. The political inconvenience of so-called boat people and refugees was set aside by the residents of Christmas Islandwho risked their own lives to save as many of them as they could. Their sense of humanity, probably because of their personal interaction and relationship with resident refugees, overcame the claims of pew jumping, race, stereotype and religion. These boat wreck victims were simply fellow human beings whose lives were in danger whatever reason and however they were understood.
When we genetically test foetus, still in the womb, for the presence of syndromes, disability and disease, even the potential of a disease, or for particular gender, or particular physical features, we have downgraded our value on humanity.
When the government of the day attempts to close down a school, at a time when the attendance has declined and they want to liquidise the financial asset, and now the school is growing because of demographic changes in the suburb, requiring building of new school rooms, etc, we have turned our children into an economic indicator and forgotten the value of their and the communities humanity.
When we place a financial value on the cost of raising children; clothing them, feeding them and educating them, perhaps to decide whether or not we can afford to have children, then they have become an economic consideration rather than a partner in humanity.
When those who are rich and can afford to travel overseas and pay exorbitant fees to adopt children from other countries, races and cultures, and those who are not so wealthy and can’t have children of their own go without, then children have become a commodity rather than a part of humanity.
When we tell other nations that are struggling economically through natural occurrences that they have to stop having children, even with a high infant mortality rate, when those children will provide for them in their old age, while we live lives wasting food and dependent upon society to provide us with a pension, we have lost the value of humanity.
When we can argue for euthanasia of the terminally ill or the elderly because of the cost burden in caring for them, or the perceived lack of fullness of life, we have devalued humanity.
Whenever we are focussing on the economic value of a person, what they can contribute to the economy, we have devalued their humanity. The story of the Christmas event, the acceptance of Mary and Jesus by Joseph, the presence of the shepherds at the manger, the threat of this baby within a poor family to the power and wealth of King Herod, the generosity of the wise men without expectation in return, and most importantly, God himself taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus, speaks of the recognition and value of humanity above economics or any other value.
The Anglican Church of Australia, like every other organisation within a capitalistic, economically driven world, struggles at times to keep sight of the importance of humanity. We get it wrong. But it does strive to prioritise its human focus even at economic expense. The Anglican Church of Australia is the second largest non government welfare agency inAustralia:
Life works provides counselling resources in enabling skills for quality relationships in marriage, at home and in the workplace
St Laurence community services provides resources for retraining and equipping for employment as well as employment services and services for the aged
Benetas operating inMelbourne provides aged care facilities
Brotherhood of St Laurence provides resources for those in crisis
Anglicare provides assessment of the status of communities and resources to meet needs
Our mission agency, the Anglican Board of Mission, is committed to providing practical resources for developing and to develop communities both Overseas and in Australia including our indigenous communities
We need to challenge those who are running for public office to maintain focus that is concerned with valuing humanity and not economics and valuing humanity not simply re-election. As a community we need to be challenging our social organisations, our sporting clubs, and the community in general to value most highly that we are all fellow human beings living together.
For us as a church we must struggle against the temptation that we want to grow in numbers so that there can be more people to share in the work that we do. We must resist the temptation to grow in our numbers because our church will be more economically viable. The desire to see the numbers of people growing in their participation in the life of the church and faith must be motivated by the belief that that this Christmas story inspires. The message of Christmas, of God taking on the flesh of our humanity, of Joseph choosing to honour the humanity of the infant that was not his, being fully human and honouring humanity above all things, is the essence of the Christian faith and a part of that fullness of humanity is the acknowledgement and worship of the God who took on human flesh.