Christmas in the dark streets

I know that I have been a critic of popular culture when it comes to the celebration of Christmas. I don’t really have a ‘Bah Humbug” spirit when it comes to Christmas and I’ enough of a fan of Dickens to understand that the church does itself no favors when it tries to ban the celebrations of people. I fully intend to celebrate Christmas this year, as I do every year. I don’t want to rush through Advent, and go straight to Christmas without preparation, and my observances of Advent this year have been a bit more muted than usual. I’ve needed a bit more time to sit with silence and listen to the world. But Christmas is coming.

On the other hand, I do want to be open in my discomfort with what I see as a lot of celebrations that miss the point of Christmas. It amazes me how much money and effort is spent in trying to create fantasy. Bright lights and expensive decorations surround us in the season. Visions of Santa Claus on a magical sleigh that defies gravity and denies other basic principles of science are common. Fairy-tale castles of endless supplies of toys and gifts that break the budgets of the givers are the norm of advertisements. Larger than life displays of cartoon characters have appeared in our neighborhood where the everyday is pretty wonderful. I prefer the real deer in my yard year round to the fake reindeer that spend a few weeks in a neighbor’s yard and the rest of the year in a rented storage unit. We live in a place with sparking snow and wild turkeys and frost-painted trees. It is truly beautiful and seems to be even more so in the months of the year when it is not decorated with light projectors and garland.

I don’t believe the Christmas is about fantasy.

I think many of our celebrations have got the holiday completely backwards and upside-down.

Ours is a faith of light appearing in the darkest hour and of love being born in a hate-filled world. The birth of the Christ Child went unnoticed by those who were looking for parades and conquered governments and gold-encrusted temples. Instead a young woman gave birth to her firstborn in the common room of the house and placed him in a manger because the guest room was full. It was a very ordinary moment. A few shepherds came to see. The story of wise men from the east isn’t reported in Luke’s gospel. Its appearance in Matthew’s gospel takes a different form and the specific age of the child is not noted.

Times were dark that first Christmas. The autocrat King Herod the Great was in charge and the oppression of the people was severe. Shortly after the birth of the Christ child he ordered the massacre of the innocents, which, according to legend, Jesus narrowly escaped by his family’s fleeing, as refugees to Egypt. This child grew up to be someone very different than usually pictured. In truth he would have been profiled in our country: a brown-skinned, Middle Eastern, who hung out with “disreputable types,” and had a name common in Mexico these days. He was not especially well-accepted in his country - criticized by Pharisees and other leaders of the community. He likely would not be well-accepted in our country today, either.

What he did, however, was to change the world. He taught us that love prevails, even agains great odds. He reminded us in the virtue of truth and the capacity of truth to bring freedom, despite those who claim that the lie is “no big deal,” and persist in spreading untruth.

Part of celebrating Christmas for me is singing the old carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

O little town of Bethlehem How still we see thee lie Above thy deep and dreamless sleep The silent stars go by Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight

It invites reflection on what to me is a very important concept. “Yet in they dark streets shineth the everlasting light. He hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

God’s Christmas is not some kind of magical escape from a world filled with fears. It is not a denial that darkness is real and that it is pervasive. It is, rather a reminder that God meets fear with hope and even in the darkest night the light of love still shines.

In a very real sense, we still are in those dark streets. A quick look at the headlines gives genuine reasons to fear. It is not clear what the outcome of the meeting of hopes and fears will be. It seems very possible that our fears will overcome our hopes - that the worst we have feared might indeed come to pass.

This is the real place of Christmas.

Into this real world Jesus comes with a simple message: “be not afraid.”

Christmas for me is an invitation to stand with those who have been marginalized and brutalized by the forces of this world. It is an invitation to go boldly to the refugees who have suffered so much in the disaster of the collapse of Syria and to stand without fear next to those that our society seeks to push away. And it is that “without fear” part that is most difficult.

The everlasting light still shines in the dark streets. Denying that the streets are dark can prevent us from discovering the truth meaning and gift of Christmas.

This year I resolve to be realistic in my celebrations. Weather permitting, I’ve planned another trip to spend time with my sisters and brothers in the most impoverished counties of our nation between now and Christmas day. I plan to spend some time with those whom others have ignored. I’ll probably forgo some of the decorations.

Rest assured, however, despite the lack of outward signs, the celebration of Christmas is more real than ever this year.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!