Dec. 1, World AIDS Day:
AIDS, Advent, Anticipation.
Unlike the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Luke describes the birth of Jesus with no historical genealogy, no miraculous virgin birth, no wise men from the East, no star hovering over a “house,” no gold, frankincense, or myrrh, and no fleeing to Egypt.
Instead a much more humble scenario. Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem “with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.” While there, she gave birth and “laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Instead of prestigious kings, they were visited by poor shepherds, a group of people not highly respected and often stigmatized during that time period because they were often thought to be immoral and even thieves. Eight days later Jesus was named and circumcised.
Preachers, poets, and biblical readers work hard to harmonize these two accounts, suggesting they are not in conflict but coherent. Both versions speak to me, but when I’m thinking of the challenges of HIV and AIDS prevention in today’s world, I find real hope in focusing on the Lukan version. The good news of God’s inclusive love is not restricted to the powerful, the wisest, or the most religiously influential. The message of the angels was directed to the poorest of the poor — even those suffering stigmatization and discrimination.
The good news is that HIV is a preventable disease, unlike many others in our world. The bad news is that stigma still promotes disease and death in the 21st century. Many people won’t get tested (or tell their status) because they fear that their loved ones will reject them or their community and church will ostracize them. So without getting tested (or telling their status), they are likely to spread the disease to others.
— adapted from the Rev. Dr. Donald E. Messer,
A Season of Hope,
the United Methodists’ Global AIDS Fund.
~ Remember people you know who’s lives have been affected or shortened by HIV or AIDS. What more would they have been able to offer the world were it not for the virus?
~ In every congregation I have served, there were folks who were positive, but afraid or ashamed of letting others know their status. What could we do to reduce the stigmas associated with HIV and AIDS?
~ Of 34 million people living with HIV worldwide, almost 24 million live on the African continent, where resources and treatments are harder to come by. 91% of children living with HIV are African. How could the difficulty that HIV presents in the sub-Saharan African context be addressed? What can we do?
~ Are there ways that the church could be — in word and deed — like the Angel Gabriel assuring Mary, “Fear not, for the Lord is with you.”
Extra Credit: Read Psalm 79 at least two times with a significant time between each reading. What is God saying to you?