In the midst of dark “blue” headlines of school children killed by the Taliban in Pakistan, of the two-year anniversary of the shooting in Newtown CT, of the release of the report describing the torture the CIA engaged in, of the unarmed black men killed by white police officers, of the protests in the streets that disrupt traffic and holiday shopping, and, most recently, of NYPD police officers executed by a disturbed man in Brooklyn … in the midst of all of this our radios, iPods, and muzak machines spew out holiday glee. It’s disconcerting. Our ads and “happy holiday” greetings, it seems, are often disingenuous. For many this season is a time of depression, of feigning happiness when we really are grieving our loved ones, of smiling at the lighting of the candle of “joy” when the anxiety over the next round of lay offs is playing havoc with our intestines.
As I started this year’s Christmas letter, I first wrote an opening paragraph much like the one above. It was real. It was genuinely what was going on with me. I am sickened by the news reports this week, am missing my mom, and am, undeniably, a little anxious about the change in my own work (and it’s impact on our family budget) come the new year. Dwayne read the first letter and vetoed it. He said it’s too gloomy* for a Christmas letter. And, he said, “it seems rushed and up to your normal [quality?]” (actually, I can’t remember the exact word he used here, because I was bummed). [He claims he never used the word “gloomy,” maybe he used “depressing”? What he said he meant to say was that it was too political … ]
I read old Christmas letters. One of the things I like about the discipline of writing to friends and relatives every year, is that I now have a file 20+ years full; the letters become a family history. I often tied the letter to news items that year … but I rarely included the “bad” news. Even my own family’s “bad news” was either omitted or spun with an underpinning of gratitude and hope.
This season shouldn’t be about pretending or focusing only on the happy thoughts or happy news. This season is about hope. That is, knowing that even in the midst of despair, even with the disturbing stories in the news, even with the family stresses of divorce or job loss, there is also a tangible reality of goodness in what has been, what is, and what will be. If we didn’t have hope, we wouldn’t see protests in the streets or revolutions in the middle east … the protests in the streets of Ferguson or New York, for instance, aren’t just an indictment of the way things are, they are an embodiment of hope that we can do and be better.
Churches sometimes offer an alternative to the Christmas Eve services filled with carols and happy faces … we offer services of healing and wholeness … “Blue Christmas” services. They are an opportunity to acknowledge that the pain and brokenness of life is not absent … in fact, for many of us, it is exacerbated … in December. We mourn, we cry, we fight, we fear, we despair. But the Good News is we can face the blueness and be assured that there is forgiveness, there is life, there is gratitude, there is healing, there is unity and compassion, there is a new day. The baby in the manger is just that … a new day … not the end of struggle, but the assurance that God is with us in that struggle.
In all the recent news reports I was most interested to hear how Pope Francis was involved in the restoration of normal relations between the U.S and Cuba. The Pope saw possibility and a timeliness within the stagnation and despair of our estranged relationship. And he facilitates a conversation. Reconciliation begins with a movement towards each other … and in the stable we see the movement of God towards humanity.
Hope, Peace, Joy, Love … we need this season. We need this season of carols and Santa, not to turn away from the headlines, but to face them with the courage and the boldness of Christ within us.