When you think of NYC, Santa is probably last on your list, even if you check it twice. However, Santa Claus - as we know him- was born in Manhattan. Jeremy Seal, a New York Times contributing author, quotes a Cincinnati Newspaper from 1844 stating that "the sterling old Dutchman, Santa Claus, has just arrived from the renowned region of Manhattan, "with his usual budget of knickknacks for the Christmas times." Manhattan is where the commercialized Santa Claus originated. The eyes of every child in America were on NYC each year as they eagerly awaited the gifts that Santa had packed onto his sleigh. However as we all know, Santa did not stay in NYC.
The reason that Santa left Manhattan for a more spacious address up north is simple. In the late 19th century, the city was steadily becoming urbanized. With the massive influx of the "tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free" (as Emma Lazarus so eloquently stated in her poem, A New Colossus), Santa was forced to make a decision. Rather than trying to explain to their children that Santa Lived in a tenement house on the lower east side, parents began explaining that the Claus family lived in the North Pole.
To this day, New York is a place where people from every nation find refuge. Currently, there are approximately 800 languages spoken in the greater metro area. As a Christian, I see New York City as a place where one person can actually fulfill the Great Commission. But with this rampant immigration and urbanization comes a sinister side. Not everyone who lives here is here by choice. The vulnerable populations, "the tired, the poor, and the huddle masses" are the very people that are being exploited for the commercial gain of others. The global nature of the urban context invites the scourge of human trafficking.
The Department of Justice reports that JFK airport is one of the top five airports where victims enter the country. One may find a potential victim in any one of the city's illegal Asian Massage Parlors, or residential brothels. The person that sells you fish in china town or the child that sells you fruit snacks on the subway could be being exploited as well. According to the National Institute of Justice, there are nearly 4,000 children being trafficked at any given time in New York City.
There is not one community in the city that has not been touched by this evil in some way, however hope remains. During Christmas, we celebrate the advent of a miracle. The coming of the King whose purpose is to fix everything that is broken in the world. This helpless baby in the manger brought with him an invasion. As the hymn so eloquently states, "Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled." Through Christ's vicarious life in the place of sinners, he achieved the righteous stand of which we have fallen short. His death in our placed paid the price that we owed for trampling on the holiness of God through our disobedience. His resurrection secures us as He lives as our representative before the Father. However, this is not the the only benefit for us.
When Christ came, He conquered sin and death through his own suffering. Christ then turned to those that were in the death camps. The scriptures states that each of us were "dead in our trespasses and sins,""blinded by the devil" in need of salvation. The sin that has broken our relationship with God, also destroyed our relationship with each other. Our own pain and suffering that we inflict on ourselves and each other testifies to our rebellion. Christ entered into our darkness and shone His light on our captivity. He broke our chains and set us free. Through faith, we can receive the gift of this great Abolitionist. He sets us free so that we could love Him and love others. This love overflows from our vertical relationship with God to our horizontal relationship with others. Because of His Grace, we can truly love our neighbor.
As this love overflows in action, we will see our communities changed. For example, in every neighborhood where there is suffering, there is a church. The local church exists to love God and to care for the weak and vulnerable in their midst. As scripture states repeatedly, God's plan to end injustice on a global scale is the church and God doesn't have a plan B.
Yet, before we care for the hurting, we must become aware of those suffering around us. We will never be the hands and feet of Christ, unless we are his eyes and ears. We will never attempt to love anyone if we don't know that they exist.
Imagine local churches, non profit organizations, and law enforcement all over the city partnering strategically to care for the weak and vulnerable. Picture community informational meetings such as panel discussions, and large events that create community awareness of exploitation. Watch believers become aware and have their eyes opened, and in turn seeing their neighbors differently. This contagious kind of lifestyle would not have been possible had it not been for a little child born in a stable over 2000 years ago.
With that said, the message of Christmas is one of true change. For that very reason, the Gospel that we find showcased in the Christmas narrative is indispensable to the fight against global injustice.