Justice at heart of Christmas story | Derek Ross
Tuesday, December 24, 2019 @ 11:34 AM | By Derek Ross
Justice is indeed a central theme throughout Christ’s birth, life and message; he was described in the Book of Matthew as fulfilling the need to “declare justice” and advance it for all people (12:15-18). Jesus spent considerable time engaging with legal scholars about the proper meaning and application of the law, beginning when he was just 12 years old.
Christ’s teachings were transformative in re-envisioning what justice requires. While this caused some to accuse him of trying to overthrow the legal order, Christ declared that he “did not come to destroy but to fulfill” the law. He stressed the importance of focusing on not just the law’s technicalities, but its “weightier matters” such as justice and mercy and faithfulness. When asked by a lawyer to explain the essence of the law’s requirements, Jesus famously replied: “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
This principle, familiar to many as the “Golden Rule,” has become a central precept of our modern legal system. It was invoked by Lord Atkin, with some modification, in the famous case of Donoghue v. Stephenson: “The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law, you must not injure your neighbour.” This foundational legal principle continues to be applied and examined in our jurisprudence, just one example of Christ’s continuing influence on legal thought. Several other examples were highlighted by the great English jurist Lord Denning in his work, The Influence of Religion on Law. Lord Denning observed that “many of the fundamental principles of our law have been derived from the Christian religion,” and that “our conception of justice is only the Christian teaching of love.”
But Jesus also called for a deeper understanding of love than could ever be prescribed in law — one fuelled not by obligation (which isn’t really “love” at all) but a voluntary expression of sincere compassion and sacrificial regard for others. And he led by example, declaring, and eventually demonstrating, that “greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Jesus understood that the law as we know it could never be perfect. There are certain wrongs which the law could never entirely remedy, and injustices it could never fully correct — but love could. And did. And continues to.
In that way, the humble baby born in a manger became not just a great teacher of justice, but its very embodiment.
Of course, not everyone celebrates Christmas in a religious sense, or at all. And even for those who do, Christmas can be a challenging time of year — a difficult season when celebrations feel hollow and hope feels distant. For some, it may seem that the world contains just as much darkness and oppression as it did on that first Christmas over 2,000 years ago.
There is indeed much work to be done, and lawyers have an important role to play in redressing injustice in Canada and around the world — as well as in supporting one another, our colleagues and neighbours, in shouldering the challenges of life and practice.
At the same time, Christmas reminds us that despite all that may be wrong around us, there is love in this world — love that has already been shared with us and which we can share with others. That’s the good news of Christmas.
May there be peace on earth and goodwill to all.
Derek Ross is the executive director and general counsel of Christian Legal Fellowship, Canada’s national association of Christian lawyers and law students. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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