This blog features reflections on current affairs through the lens of my Quaker faith and practice and offers not only analysis but a perspective on hope, renewal, and reconciliation - a “lift”, as I call it - during these stressful, chaotic times.
I hope that you will use the Comments feature to participate with me and with each other. I believe it will be enriching to us all.
Depending on much you prepared - or didn’t prepare! - for Christmas, the day itself can be a relief. During pre-Christmas some of us paid regular attention to Advent, but most of us were just busy traveling, shopping, wrapping, baking, and hosting. Now today we have been able to find time for opening packages and visiting and perhaps enjoying a special holiday meal. Yes, it’s time now to relax.
So now it's Christmas night (or the day after) and our thoughts may settle on gratitudes for all the tangible and intangible gifts of relationship that may have been special for us today. If you are like me there is almost always a kind of melancholy and nostalgia as we think about Christmases past, how the children have grown, and how we to have grown older as well. Christmas Day offers time to reflect on the passage of our personal lives in general and our family and communal lives together. For some there is also a sadness of remembrances of people no longer present and memories of special poignant events in previous years or in just this past year. Or perhaps we have a sense of loneliness for what we are missing during the epidemic when holiday expectations and family customs have been disrupted or lost.
We all need opportunities for celebration and commemoration such as Christmas to measure and mark our days and years. We need the chance to gather in community to share our stories from the past as well as the hopes, dreams and activities that now fill our days and our plans for the future. We need, above all, to make meaning and sense of our lives, and a holiday commemoration provides the pause for us to do that, to ponder what we value most in the how we live, work and treat one another, and are treated in return.
I want to also focus this Christmas Day on what I believe is the deeper meaning of the Christmas narrative. Importantly the original biblical narrative begins as a story being told to a largely besieged people in an era of political oppression and cultural transition. Like many of the listeners, Jesus is born to poor parents on the unwelcome road to pay dreaded taxes on the poor, for example, and it goes on to narrate both the harshness of the time as well as the hope the birth inspired. In that sense it is primarily a poignant story of liberation and hope for an oppressed people that has little or nothing to do with the contemporary, mostly secular interpretation of the story that mainly focuses on Santa, consumerism and gift giving, and traditional music which may or may not even try to convey the deeper meaning of the Jesus birth narrative.
Although it was indeed a much crueler and difficult time, I can further imagine that it was a time not dissimilar to our current time. We, too, are caught up in cultural transition when we struggle with equality and inclusiveness and worry about the prospects of political and sectarian turmoil. And I want to believe the story of the rightness of nonviolence and radical inclusiveness introduced in the birth narrative also applies to us so clearly today. The Jesus narrative is not a story of a glorious political revolution, but a story with humble beginnings in which salvation and liberation comes from a promise of a movement dedicated to meeting the needs of the poor through love and compassion. It is nothing less than remarkable the those who composed and maintained the narrative held the liberation story as the model that Jesus would later preach and ultimately die for its radical challenge to the political and religious establishment. The Jesus movement would prove to be a revolution begun in the humblest of births and become a revolution of the transformative love of nonviolence. It is unlikely most of us today will make the association between the current popular interpretation of an adored baby Jesus in a creche surrounded by sweet animals, angels and wise men in contrast to the radical message initiated in the birth narrative.
But I want to end with a tribute to celebration and joy we associate with the Christmas holiday that I mentioned earlier, and I hope that a celebratory spirit has been at the center of you holiday thus far and into the rest of he holiday season. But individually and as a culture, we would also do well to commemorate the more profound meaning of Christmas as the birth of a revolutionary Jewish leader of a nonviolent movement and message that persists in shaking the foundations of privilege and power.
Blessings and peace to you,