Passage through the Advent and Christmas season is always jarring for me, with the mighty paeans of praise for a new-born King and stories of God/Fathers and dutiful pregnancies of young women. I groan a bah-humbug at the annual rehearsal of monarchical and patriarchal paradigms of power and look around for some little children eye-bright at lights and ornaments, running laughingly amid the legs of chatting grownups in the shopping aisles or after church. But this year, with real despots strutting through the corridors of power and seated in the places of privilege, the Christmas story has a keener edge. Children really are being killed by the thousands in Yemen and Syria, and fleeing from violence only to be turned away from safety in our own land before our very eyes. Pregnant women still are stumbling toward longed-for places of refuge, people are still selling their souls for money and prestige, greedy for the power they would keep from others. And the very earth is hotter every day in vengeance for our reckless pillage of the fuels beneath our water and our soil, while the wise still seek another way.
And so the Christmas story, not the gloss from Handel, Dickens, and Hallmark, keeps speaking amidst the tawdry tinsel, musak, tired carols, and culture wars. How fitting that we have to dig in stable muck to prise the message from the medium. Herods and would-be despots will always be among us, with their preening lies, self-serving corruption, and pernicious abandonment of the weak, the outcast, the suffering, and the laboring in factories, mines, offices, and birthing rooms. But out of the oppression by the mighty comes from time to time a child who takes on the suffering of the world, sees through the falsehood and the flashiness of fleeting power, and gathers up our longing for Life beyond the deaths that fill our lives.
As a little child evokes our love and awe, we learn again how precious is each life that enters in the darkness of our world. The light of hope within their eyes looks out beyond the heralds of our doom. The emperor is naked once again, and the walls of privilege and power are blown down. The armaments of war are melted by the power of a love that turns the bullets of fear into seeds of reconciliation. If we listen we can still hear the message: Fear Not, for the Creator of All is with you, leading you and us, together, toward peace. If we get down in the stable’s muck, it’s still possible to find the pearl of genuine peace. It’s enough to make you glad that somewhere in the year, we’re invited to remember this ancient story. In a few days we’ll be asked to get off our knees and start anew on this Great Work. And, once again, a little child will lead us, if only we can hear and reach out our hands. Listen. Reach. Give thanks.