The Jews said to Jesus: “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, ‘You will be made free’?” (John 8:33)
Each Sunday, Christians celebrate the Day of the Lord – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is a day on which we joyously celebrate being liberated from bondage and slavery to sin and death. In this celebration we also acknowledge that we were slaves – not just our ancestors, but we ourselves were slaves to our own passions, to sin, to death itself. God freed us from this bondage through Jesus Christ just as He led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.
American Christians no doubt feel like the Jews in John 8 – we have never been in bondage to anyone, how can Jesus say he makes us free?
Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John8:31-36)
Fundamental to being a Christian is the realistic assessment of ourselves that we are in fact slaves to passion, sin and death, and that we need the intervention from God to be liberated from this slavery. Jesus Christ has in fact already liberated us from enslavement. This is what we celebrate in the Eucharistic (Thanksgiving) Liturgy of the Church. It is the celebration of our willingness to be slaves of God rather than of ourselves.
For Americans, we should be able to relate to the connection between Christ and freedom. And not just because of our historical fight for independence, but because slavery was a huge part of our own history. Here is a story from the life of former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who truly understood what deliverance from slavery meant. (Taken from the NY TIMES “Mose’s Last Exit” by Adam Goodheart):
“Tubman was back in Auburn by Christmas Day, 1860, having conveyed the Ennals family safely to Canada. (Abolitionists often noted the irony of Americans fleeing the “land of liberty” to seek freedom under Queen Victoria’s sheltering scepter.) Her secret missions ended with the approach of war.
But one night in the midst of the secession crisis, while staying at the house of another black leader, a vision came to Tubman in a dream that all of America’s slaves were soon to be liberated – a vision so powerful that she rose from bed singing. Her host tried in vain to quiet her; perhaps their grandchildren would live to see the day of jubilee, he said, but they themselves surely would not. “I tell you, sir, you’ll see it, and you’ll see it soon,” she retorted, and sang again: ‘My people are free! My people are free.’”
The Israelites moved from slavery in Egypt to the promised land, which in turn is the prototype for the Christian understanding of Christ leading us from death to life and earth to heaven. American slaves had to escape “the land of the free” to get to Canada which was under the Queen of England’s rule in order to be free of slavery!
Christmas is a great celebration for us because on this day we celebrate the birth of the great liberator of humankind. We now can live as free men and women – exercising self control, self denial, fasting, asceticism, and love for others. No longer do we have to live in subjugation to our passions and cravings and self centeredness. We are free to be full human beings capable of loving, forgiving, sharing, practicing altruism rather than merely being products of or controlled by passions, reactions, genes, emotions, instincts, survival, self preservation or evolution.
At Christmas we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ – so it should be a day of rejoicing and celebration. And we should use the day to help lift others from enslavement to poverty, suffering and need, just as Christ in His love freed us from our own impoverishment and slavery.