Though we pause our investigations until the new year to offer a Christmas Message, this message, too, is laden with human history.
And at the heart of our Christmas celebration, is a particular history. We tell an ancient story of a poor, brown-skinned, refugee, Jewish family and those who would make room (and those who would not). We recount a miraculous birth story. We remember those over 2,000 years ago who traveled far to witness the birth, among them shepherds, angels, and rational men whom we call variously, Magi, Kings, and Wise Men.
We sift through layers upon layers of 1,500+ years of celebration of the feast of the Nativity and we add our own (in some households, certain traditions like that of the Christmas roast or Christmas X (you name it!) can carry the weight of millenia, can’t they? Though surely the weight of the past can be onerous, it also can be illuminating.
On Christmas Eve, we will sing, We Three Kings, and three young(ish) men will enact the presentation of gifts in the pageant portion of our service at 4 p.m. A week later, many of our siblings in Christ will celebrate Día de Los Reyes or Three Kings Day. Beginning in the 8th century, Christian Europeans believed that the Magi or Wise men together represented Asia, Africa and Europe, the then-known lands and peoples of the world.
What would it mean if, this year, we, too, considered all the peoples of the world represented in the Kings/Magi/Wise Men — peoples of Euro, African, Asian, Latinx, Pacific Islander, and Indigenous descent or variously Muslims, Jews, and Christians (among others)? Would we recognize in one another the unique gifts we each have to bear? Would we find ways to unite against injustice? Would we actually live as if God could be found in every child — even our own wounded inner one?
Or when we sing O Come All Ye Faithful or Silent Night, what would happen if we remembered that fateful night in 1914 in the midst of the first World War and the ravages of the epidemic of their age? When considering how hundreds of thousands of German soldiers and French and British soldiers of the trenches miraculously stopped shooting one another, put down their machine guns, and began singing carols instead, would we remember to put down our literal and metaphorical guns and taste peace?
Or what if when we turn on the lights of our Christmas trees, we remembered the words written for a tree lighting at the White House in the midst of a war on terror by Dr. Maya Angelou? Could we, too, speak to both the halls of power and the recesses of our hearts, without hesitation: Peace?
We, Angels and Mortal’s, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.
Peace, My Brother.Maya Angelou, Amazing Peace (2005)
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.
Or what if we call to mind how Harriet Tubman rescued her two brothers on Christmas in 1854 and others like her enslaved and formerly enslaved saw it as a time of self-liberation culturally, spiritually, and literally (despite the misuse by enslavers as a tool of social control). Would we remember that liberation, and Black liberation in particular, is central to the mission of our Prince of Peace? Would we find courage previously unimaginable?
Or what if we really truly took in the Christ-child, our God Emmanuel, in our midst this Christmas, and through all ages? Might we recognize our own salvation? Our need for rescue that is met in our God who is Love? A grace that is unmerited yet given? A sacred kinship with God? A sibling, friend, counselor, teacher from whose love we can never be separated? A past, present, and future Reality and promise of everlasting life?
The question this Christmas and holiday season is not how we will bear the past, or even the present, but rather whether we will help birth the future. Will we, like the wise men, leave by a different way? Our past is with us, and our future is calling.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!
Photo at top by Rick Falco.