The face of Christ around us
by Christopher Dodson
Christmas has arrived. Christ is among us.
It would be folly to claim to know all of the implications of that statement of truth.
Through revelation, however, we know slivers of the truth. We know that Christ is in the sacraments and in the church that receives and celebrates them. We know that Christ is in our daily lives, never abandoning us on our earthly journey. We know that where two or more are gathered in his name, he is there.
All this is true, but sometimes these examples paint a picture of Christ as a mere fellow traveler or ride-along buddy. Christ is not just standing at our bedside at night or looking over our shoulder as we conduct business.
Rather looking at him as a spirit among us, we should look for him in each other. The human person is the greatest sign of Christ among us.
In fact, Christianity stood out as unique in that it saw that the human face and body were reflections of God. At times the church had to fight against those who would remove and destroy all icons and statues not only from church life but society in general. The church rightly denounced this iconoclasm as a heresy, but like all heresies it had a grain of truth. The iconoclasts, like some Muslims, Jews, and even some eastern religions, understood that if a person could create an image of man in painting, a coin, or a statue it meant that the person was attempting to create an image of something sacred. They were right up to a point.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta saw the face of Christ in the poor she and her fellow sisters served. To celebrate Christmas we should do the same.
Christ is there, in the face of the unborn child in the womb, one of the most dangerous places in our country.
Christ is in the face of the person on death row.
Christ is in the faces of those in prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers.
Christ is working in the fields, factories, and office buildings.
Christ is in the migrants and refugees crossing seas and borders everyplace across the globe.
Christ is in the newcomer trying to establish a safe and stable life.
Christ is in the emergency rooms, the nursing homes, and clinics.
Christ is in the politically oppressed and those persecuted because of their beliefs.
Christ is in the faces of those trafficked for labor, sex, and bodily organs.
Christ suffers in those caught in conflict, war, famine, and fear.
Christ is in those bullied, sexually harassed, and discriminated against.
Christ is in the face of those with whom we disagree, our opponents, and our enemies.
The list could go on and on, for Christ is in all. This is one of the messages of Christmas. It is a reminder of Christ’s true presence here on earth.
Too often some brands of Christianity want to treat Christ like a piece of personal property that is only held by the select who receive it. You have to be in the club. At best, these groups are confusing the Gospel with Christ himself. At worse, they are engaging in an exercise of factionalism or gnosticism.
Seeing Christ among us means seeing Christ in those whom we do not expect to see him. This fact has social and political consequences.
It is tempting to think that seeing Christ in others and responding to their needs is a matter of charity, but that thought is just that — a temptation. In many cases, the needs of a person are due to them as a matter of justice because they are created in the image of God and Christ is there. The Catechism warns against giving in charity what is really due as a matter of justice simply because they are human persons. Justice is a matter of public policy, not charity.
Professing “Christ is among us” means engaging in a politics of love. It means that issues like abortion, poverty, violence, homelessness, migration, and even taxation are not mere political issues with human consequences. It means they are, first and foremost, human issues involving Christ himself, for whatever we do or fail to do to the least of these, we do or fail to do to him.
This focus may seem depressing, especially during the Christmas season. Christianity, however, is a religion of paradoxes. We celebrate Christmas because we know now that Christ is there among the poor, the vulnerable, and the downtrodden. We celebrate Christmas because we know that Christ is there. We celebrate Christmas because we have the privilege of being Christ’s hands and feet, serving him as we serve others.