On a search for a better world, finding it in the most unlikely places
“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…” (O Little Town of Bethlehem)
So says the classic carol… but in my world, it’s 6:51 am, and the sky is is just beginning to brighten in anticipation of the coming dawn. The world is beginning to come alive around me, as the weak December sun begins his short journey across the sky. In what is supposed to be a season of congeniality, I am detecting more than a few voices of desperation, fear, and uncertainty. Behind the polished carols of consumerism, all is not well. With the United States’ financial bulwark collapsing under the weight of Dionysian extravagance, and the forces that once made us the strongest nation in the world now rending our sociopolitical landscape into competing, diametrically opposed factions…not much hope in this holiday, if I may be so bold.
A few thousand Kilometers south of my coffee-shop-hideout, a mother in Port-Au-Prince wakes up to another day in an endless procession of struggle. Her hungry children look to her, their lone parent, to find sustenance for their malnourished little bodies. Her silent desperation will go unheard by those of us who benefit from the majority of our planet’s resources. Across an ocean – and half a world away – an 8 year old will pick up his Russian-manufactured Kalashnikov assault rifle and use it to take a life. Forced into a war he will never understand, he is a pawn of men devoid of regard for life…
“History keeps repeating itself. That’s one of the things wrong with history”
In the Middle East, worshipers hurry to prayer, bowing down under a cloud of fear and hatred, not knowing if the next syllable of song may be the last word spoken before a bomb blast cuts their prayers short. As they pray, a soldier nearby is also praying, longing for his home and family, thinking of what is out of reach and not knowing when – or if- he will return to hold his children in his arms. In the same region of the world, the same little town of Bethlehem spoken of by my carol is almost un-remarkably immersed. The birthplace of He whose introduction was “Peace on Earth, goodwill among mankind” is ravaged by the pitiless division of racial and religious misunderstanding. A prize to be taken, a point to be made – a bargaining chip to be bartered for power…
Maybe you don’t have time to worry about all of the above, because the stress and the struggle to just make it through the day are enough to consume the entirety of your waking moments. Maybe you don’t need someone like me to tell you about oppression because you experience a beat-down every morning when you open your eyes. Maybe you have experienced fear and failure on a level so deep you no longer hope to do more than exist – maybe you feel like all that remains in your future is the bleak landscape of the Way Things Are. If so, then listen up:
“Where charity stands watching
And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.” (O Little Town of Bethlehem)
The beauty of what Christians celebrate at Christmas is this: that into the madness and chaos and heartbreak of history, into the darkness and silence and oppression, a different story has been spoken. To those unloved and unwanted, outcasts and outsiders, hopeless, confused and alone in the terrifying silence. You have been spoken to. Love, and healing, recovery and restoration, peace and wholeness have been spoken over you. God incarnate, Heaven and Earth, Brokenness and beauty, Your messed up world and your beautiful future have come together in Jesus. Jesus isn’t some statue or stained glass caricature, he’s not a catchword for pompous, arrogant asses who beat people down in the name of God, church, and religion. He’s not anything more or less than than the only one who will ever know you for exactly who you are and love you completely without a single condition or reservation. You can come to him with everything that scares the hell out of you, everything that shoves your face in the dirt, everything that chains you to your past.
That’s Christmas. That’s real, and I swear to you that’s true.
“The people who walk in darkness have seen the Light,
and on those who dwell in the domain of darkness,
the Light has shined” – Isaiah 9
“Come to me, all you who are beaten down and weighed down,
I will give you rest.” – Jesus
So my hope for you – God’s peace-offering to a messed up world – is His own blood, and his offer of rescue, of renewal, of restoration.
I hope you find it. All you have to do is ask.
Grace and Peace,
The Suburban Vagabond