The Christmas season brings pretty lights; attentiveness to others as we purchase our gifts; familiar music; nature brought inside through our decorated trees; ornaments that remind us of Christmases past; food, drinks and laughter in our many celebrations; traditions that have been followed for generations or recently established; and moments of hope that maybe, just maybe, Peace On Earth and Goodwill Towards All might be possible.
The Christmas season also brings long, dark nights; budgetary strains as we buy more than we can afford; short loops of annoying songs that we can’t get out of our heads; messy pine needles everywhere; traffic; unrealistic expectations; gatherings we would rather not attend; obligations that strain, tax, and sometimes nearly break us; and moments where we think humanity is just fucked and there’s nothing we can do to change it.
I find the Christmas story interesting: a seemingly insignificant event; a couple so ordinary no one would give even the very pregnant Mary shelter, with the exception of one innkeeper who offered the use of his barn for her pending delivery; the shepherds, not considered important in their society, receiving a heavenly choral performance; a star to guide those who are curious, aware, persistent and wise; an announcement that God is with us in the form of a newborn baby; an event that at the very least continues to be marked by the dates we use today.
Is it ridiculous in 2018 to believe that this story still matters? There seems to be little of the Christmas story evident today in American Christianity. Humility, curiosity and wisdom are not attributes I hear my non-religious friends use when describing their encounters with the Christian faith. Religious people often seem to have no need for God anymore because they have things figured out. Instead they look for others who are like them and who believe what they believe. They are too good for a manger, too important for the shepherds, too busy for the star-led journey. If God With Us was meant to evoke some change in humanity, shouldn’t there be more evidence that God is in fact with us?
And yet there is a part of Christmas that never seems to go away completely. Something, or someone, persists in this underlying thread of hope. Perhaps there are enough of us who long for more humane humans to keep this dream alive, which is what I have come to believe is actually the Christmas message. We don’t achieve peace through power. We don’t extend goodwill through domination. We work towards peace and goodwill by being better humans.
“Keep Christ in Christmas” I see on billboards and read in social media rants. Jesus didn’t demand, bully, demean, undermine. He did hang out with the marginalized and the forgotten, focusing on their healing and wholeness. He seemed to care about the humanity of all with special attention to those whose humanity had been stripped away. If we are to keep Christ in Christmas, it seems that what we are in fact to do is to care about the humanity of all.
The Hyde of Christmas demands, requires, insists that the holiday and its message be interpreted and practiced a certain way. The Jekyll of Christmas evokes mystery and wonder. Hyde is noisy. Jekyll whispers in the silence. I realize the Jekyll and Hyde illustration has limitations, but it helps me understand how one holiday has seemingly contradictory realities. And it helps me see how we are all both Jekyll and Hyde.
Interestingly for us in the northern hemisphere, Christmas happens on the shortest of days. When darkness dominates, a season of lights offers hope. The collection of small lights reminds us of the impact made when many come together. It is still night with dawn far off, but for those of us who long for more humane humans, we come together this holiday season hoping that maybe we aren’t fucked after all.