Two twentieth century martyrs—a bishop and a theologian—bring us a special perspective on Christmas. We use that word often—perspective. It is simply a term that speaks about the location from which we view an object. Is the coin round or is it flat? Well, it all depends on your perspective. It depends on your vantage point.
The Bible was written from a very distinct perspective. Most of Hebrew and Christian scripture was written by oppressed people. The Jews of the Old Testament and the Christ-followers of the New (both Jews and Gentiles) found themselves out of sync with the powers, kingdoms and empires around them. They were humble, and yet they were feared by those who held power. They suffered greatly.
So perhaps it is those who suffer who can give us the best picture of the event that changed and changes everything. Perhaps oppressed people can see what the biblical writers saw. What would they say about Christmas?
Bishop Oscar Romero found himself at odds with the government as he stood up for the rights and dignity of the poor in El Salvador. He was speaking out against death squads and doing his best to be a voice for the oppressed. On March 24, 1980 Bishop Romero was gunned down while leading Mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence in San Salvador.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent his final years in prisons and concentration camps. Early in the reign of the Third Reich, Bonhoeffer spoke out against the ideology of Adolf Hitler. His efforts to run an underground seminary and his continued opposition to Hitler took him to the gallows on April 9, 1945.
What did these martyrs—who were oppressed and stood in solidarity with their oppressed brothers and sister—have to say about Christmas? What did it mean from their vantage point?
No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need
even of God—for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God. Emmanuel. God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God. — Oscar Romero
Who will celebrate Christmas correctly?
Whoever finally lays down
all power, all honor,
all reputation, all vanity,
all arrogance, all individualism
beside the manger.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
— Jesus of Nazareth
If this season finds you sick, exhausted, under-resourced, grieving or suffering in ways that are invisible to others, you may be able to grasp what this world misses every December. The yearning for Emmanuel gives you a perspective by which you can understand the child in the manger. And because that child came, you are not alone.