Should a visitor from Mars arrive at this time of the usual Christmas fervour they would be unlikely to grasp that the birth of Jesus was a political intervention. The messages and sound-bites bombarding our ears are that of some nice and cosy domestic event/gathering: a bit of charity for those less fortunate, some religion perhaps and hardly anything about socio-political connections! One would think that this would be an ideal time for the launching of both a report and project on “truth and lies about migration and asylum”, “the impact of our so-called economic pruning” or even more important “about the root and systemic causes for homelessness and poverty in this rich nation”. Instead, we (the Church) are out carol singing, collecting parcels and blankets for the homeless, drinking mulled wine, bombarding each other with tons of Christmas cards and overeating at our many Christmas parties.
Now, these are all important but they all contribute to us missing the political nature of the Christmas story and the reality of the challenges around us! The Christmas story is anything but closing our doors and gates and forgetting the world around and outside us! It is concerned with how political and economic realities – bad policies – impact on ordinary lives – and the way things and lives can be transformed for good. So as we sing familiar carols, read familiar Scriptures and do familiar things, let us remember….
It came upon the midnight clear…indeed it was midnight for me when I awoke and wondered about all the commercialised nonsense luring me to get ready for Christmas – from gifts to food to gadgets to fairy-tale discounts. So to ensure that the “glorious song of old” packed a punch and meaning, I am attempting to do a few things this Christmas and during the holidays. I am desperately avoiding the crass materialism and the consumerist seduction of ‘babylon’ – by some radical scaling back. In fact my mantra is: save 100% by buying nothing! I am contributing zilch to the god of consumerism and economic growth. I refuse to be fooled or conned by fairy-tale bargains. I am going to focus on others by considering a gift for someone other than my close and familiar circle. I will be making our Christmas meal very simple, memorable and enjoyable – taking an active part in the cooking and putting conversation and ‘slow’ in the process. And believe it or not I will be switching off all my electronic gadgets (on Christmas and boxing-day), spending more time sitting around our dining space or table in conversation! I realise this is going to be a massive challenge but I am up for it!
O Little Town of Bethlehem…Most of us dream of stillness and quiet in this madhouse of frenzied activity. Mortals no longer wish to sleep so that angels may keep watch! It is so busy and we are so much running from place to place that we will most likely miss the angel’s song and the good news around us of positive actions trying to make a difference in the lives of those who are lonely, displaced, terrorised, lost, anxious and despairing…. Of course stillness and quiet may be a luxury when towns like Bethlehem are run over by tyrants who erect walls and borders!
Away in a manger…may be soothing to put baby Jesus to sleep but those desperately trying to cross from Calais can hardly find a crib to lay their bare heads and tired bodies. All they can see around them are more wired and higher fences daily rising; immigration policies and discourses intoxicated and drunk from the viagra of fear and creating a hostile environment. The stars, when they are out offer light for the children of God to find their way around, huddled like the shepherds around their fires. They are waiting for angels to bring glad tidings of great joy as every truck that roll pass offer shelter and carriage to an unknown land of milk and honey, as well as capture, return and even death.
And in desperation, nights are everything but silent and holy…What a joke! Silence and stillness have been forced to migrate and are currently crossing and re-crossing borders where it is still possible to find a home. Perhaps, in the many stables around the corners of the dead one may still find quiet and peace. But even there in our trans-global world one cannot escape the noise of our wired reality as capitalism seeks out new market and potential worshippers. Yet, all is not lost: salvation and hope do take the form of birthing new lives and they may yet live to rise out of the penury
So, fear not…is a welcome interjection at a time of trauma, displacement and when the world around us – perhaps someone’s homeland – is engulfed in warring flames and reduced to rubble, fleeing – with death, loss and insecurity all around. It is small comfort to learn that there are others in the make-shift camp of tents they have arrived at who have lost their childhood and are now grown adults there – with no place to call home, no room in any inn (as their bare and bleeding bony knuckles tell) Can we understand the fear that grabbed their troubled minds as they too contemplate how desperately they need a saviour or two? Will that prince of peace – this great Desire of Nations – be able to actually bring peace or at least an open gate?
Go tell it on the mountains…well we don’t have to tell a thing: just look at us or the bodies littering the fields, the mountain paths, under the rubble, trapped and buried under the weight of the wrecks lying on the sea-beds of the Mediterranean. The mountain range and the ocean are our friends, offering refugee, shelter and help from crazy killers in the name of religion and peace. They know our pain, absorb and drink up the blood of lives lost and lives birthed, receive our cries and echoes, and offer hope when all else seems lost – when the world forgets us, when media stories caricature us, and when moral beings refuse to rescue or even make way, make way to receive us.
But the mountains and seas also offer a different story about us: stories of crossing and re-crossing; stories of despair, anxiety, fear and weakness – of lives transfigured into goodness, ingenuity, friendship and courage to overcome. Yes, stories of hope birthed in spite of the harsh realities. And we will still sing and paint and dance and tell stories of mothers, fathers, children, wise people, friends, lovers, courageous wanderers, lives lost, hope sprouting forth, and of a God who cares enough to act in decisive ways to overthrow the agents of death.
© jagessar [words and image] December 2014