To those who stood around the stable at Bethlehem, to those who heard the good news, to those who first understood it and pondered on it, Christ's birth meant principally the coming of God's justice. Their expectation lived in the context of the prophetic books which expressed it. The justice of God fills heaven and earth, but for us to see and define it, there is a test. A society is filled with God's justice if it takes care of its weak, its afflicted, of its widows and orphans, its poor and its sick. Injustice is not merely a bad moral attitude; it's a social cancer and a physical blight. Where the poor and afflicted are not cared for, there will the crops fail, kings turn tyrants, the very heavens of God fall on our heads. For Jeremiah and Isaiah to know God is to protect the poor, the little and the weak. This care is not merely an application of religious faith. It is rather the infallible sign of God's presence and God's love. For all who for 2,000 years waited upon the coming Messiah, the fate of those at the margins of society was the measuring rod by which his welcome was plumbed. No theology lets us think that the voice of God, once having spoken, can be erased or silenced. The revelation given in the prophets before the Lord Jesus comes must govern our understanding of Him when He comes.

The hopes and prayers of those who waited for the Messiah have particular meaning for us in America this Christmas. We have just survived a political campaign in which we were told that the voice of God in His first revelation no longer mattered; that the prayers of Joseph and Mary and Simeon and Anna are not welcome, that somehow the Word of God, even in His infant littleness, must scorn and neglect all the long waiting which was and is the glory of His people. Christmas reminds us that the Word of God is not bound, even by our stupidity.

We Americans seen about to enter the winter of our discontent. We have watched our material wealth shrink, our power weaken, and all of us feel the fright of our new and surprising vulnerability. Everywhere across our aland we hear cries for saving, for reduction, for paring -- and we must now take care lest the savings and the parings cut most into those who can least stand them, the poor and the dispossessed.

There is no way to celebrate the birth of Christ without sharing the mind and heart of His mother and all in Israel who waited for the coming of His kingdom of justice. This Christmas it is important for Americans to remember the little ones, the poor, the orphan, the weak, the dispossessed -- those whose care and whose keeping is the sure sign that the justice we awaited, the promised Prince and Christmas in all its beauty are finally come.

None of us should lay that flattering unction to our souls which tells us that we are the little people, we are the simple and humble, far removed from the great kings, and so we can't do much to change a world of poverty and injustice and easy death. The burden of Christmas is that the justice of God must come first to our hearts before it can thrive in our world. While we chant "pride, rose, prince, hero of us, high priest," let us remember that the newborn Christ must first of all be "our hearts' charity's hearth's fire, our thoughts' chivalry's throng's Lord." We ourselves must care in our hearts for the weak, the poor, the outcast and the lonely. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice" means that each of us must seek it first in our heart, our family, our neighborhood. Each one, each family, each block, each city, as well as this nation, all must hear the words of Isaiah: "If you draw out your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted, then shall your light rise in obscurity and your darkness be as the noon day."