O Little Town of [fill in the blank]
Oh 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.
So today is Christmas Day.
As any reader might know, I am fastidious about few things but puzzles and Advent.
I hold Advent protectively dear for many reasons, not least of all so that by the time that Christmas does come, I am not weary of carols, and can sit, like I am now, on my couch with my lit tree, both dogs by my feet (or, as you see, later on my lap), my daughter and son and father and exchange student each content in their own quiet moment right here with me, while we listen to gentle Christmas music and hum along to the tune because we’re not tired of them yet.
We’ve held out, and the expectation is worth the wait.
It’s a serene scene, no doubt about it.
But make no mistake; the scene is serene, but it’s also not the whole picture.
Last week, for example, I was fretful about a matter, ramped up a bit because it was right before Christmas, and was utterly surprised to find myself saying out loud, to my late husband no less, “I’m doing the best I can, here, but dang sometimes it’s a lot.”
We gathered at the Christmas table, my family and a dear friend of our family’s, all of us grateful for the food on it and for those of us gathered for it and the joy shared over it, and yet remembering those who were not at the feast, and recalling the various bittersweet reasons why, and knowing that we are not alone in noticing the plates that once were heaped for those now gone too.
We have a President, purportedly a Christian, who advocates on Christmas, no less, for a wall separating the children—adult and infant alike—of God, and we learn of one more actual child who died on Christmas in a US detention agency.
We have a third of the country, many of them purportedly Christian, who support this President’s toxic agenda that is anything but that of Jesus’.
We know of people dependent on every paycheck for food and housing security who are anxious this Christmas, we know of those who are sick and are unsure not only of prognosis but of whether they can afford their own health.
We can’t escape that God’s climate is teetering on the precipice of disaster, and the blame lies at humanity’s feet.
We know of daily exhaustion and uncertainty and finitude.
Those are just some of our fears, both fully present and fully possible.
But here’s the crazy thing: we also have hope.
We have reason to hope that the resistance to Trump and his hate-and-greed inspired policies will win the day, and we are buoyed by the rejection of his presidency in so many of November’s elections.
We have reason to hope for continued increasing engagement by religious people who are seeing the unavoidable interplay between faith and life, faith and politics, faith and care of creation.
We have reason to hope, having lived through so many losses, that there is reason to believe that grief begets strength and sensitivity to others’ grief.
We have reason to hope that the Community of Saints is a Thing.
We have reason to hope in abundant perspective, and abundant laughter, and abundant grace, and abundant love that gets my amazing, joy-filled, perseverant, near-perfect (just ask me) kids and me through our crazy life.
We have reason to hope that clean kitchens and laundry piles are not an indication of someone’s worth before God (or, fingers crossed, as a single mama).
The lesson from Luke for this Christmas includes these verses:
10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
It is tempting, on Christmas, to pretend that people are not afraid.
But they/I/we are.
And if we aren’t, fact is we aren’t paying attention.
As I’ve said so many times before, it’s worth a linger to note that the angels didn’t say that there was no reason to be afraid; in fact, if there weren’t reason to be afraid, the angels wouldn’t have bothered to come to say to the shepherds—those who had so little, who were at the mercy of the merciless rulers and the hoarding rich, who carried countless griefs—“Don’t be afraid.”
It’s precisely because there is reason to fear that the angels sang, “Do not be afraid, for there is a Messiah now born.”
(In fact, even the merciless rulers and hoarding rich are afraid—if they have ears to hear and eyes to see—for the Lord comes to say to them that their power and wealth are not ultimate nor even theirs. And yet, the Gospel says to even them, “Do not be afraid, for you are more than your arrogance, and your greed, and your prejudices, and privilege, and your illusion of self-made-ness. The Messiah is born for you and your reorientation too. There is hope for your bondage to self.”)
And then when these bedraggled shepherds found Mary and Joseph, themselves poor, and soon-to-be-refugees, and potential outcasts from the Order of the Powerful, they passed on this same crazy news: “You have every reason to be afraid, guys, but it turns out, if these angels are on to something, you also have every reason to hope for justice and comfort.”
See, that beautiful carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” has it right.
“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Jesus has them all: our hopes for what the world should be, and our fears in the midst of what it is.
Oh little town of Two Harbors, of Washington D.C., of La Cruces, NM, of Hudaydah, Yemen, of Minneapolis/St. Paul, of Custer, SD, of [fill in the blank]: you have every reason to be afraid.
But do not be, for in Jesus, and those who follow his invitation to compassion, to concern for the Least of These, to feeding and sheltering and protecting and restoring and caring for creation and righteous indignation-ing and to comforting and to being ambassadors of salvation, of health, healing, and wholeness, we have on this day every reason to hope.
From my little family to yours, we wish you a relief from your fears, and a merry, hope-filled Christmas.
The Spent Dandelion is now offering monthly retreats on various themes! Come for really good conversation, really good food, and really gorgeous North Shore beauty. Find out more here!
Check out the last couple of OMG blogs, while you’re at it!
The Good News (No, Really) According to John the Baptist and Luke
I am reading and savoring these words on December 29th, a day that was historically so savage for 300 who perished at Wounded Knee. At the SD Art Museum today we in Brookings were invited to place a red ribboned stick outdoors in the brisk cold along a replicated perimeter of the mass grave that remains at Wounded Knee. As I placed my stick I felt a mix of fretfulness and hope. Most of all, surprisingly, I felt connection. And, reading your words this evening
helps solidify for me a much needed nudge regarding the source of all connection and hope in this season. He is Born!