Christmas is all about traditions. My family puts the tree up together while watching Elf. We spend at least one night driving around looking at Christmas lights and drinking hot chocolate. Our house is almost bursting at the seams with cookies ready to hand out to family and friends. Christmas Eve communion is another must on our list of traditions.
I love these traditions. My hope is that my children will one day look back at these moments with a warm feeling of love. I want them to build their own traditions with their families as well. These are healthy rhythms that ground us in vital relationships for healthy development. Traditions can be very good things. However, Christmas also reminds us that many things still need to change.
This year I was introduced to one of my new favorite Christmas songs. “Refugee King” by Liz Vice gives us a more historically accurate take on “Away in a Manger.” The lyrics force us to remember the threat of death and the trek to a foreign land. It explores the pain of a family forced to leave their home in search of something safer. We are reminded that Jesus was a refugee. We are forced to see Jesus in the dirty, tear-filled faces of children warn and weary from long journeys in search of safer places to live. It causes us to see how much more needs to change.
This year I also learned to love a classic Christmas song I had all but written off. The song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was taken from the lyrics of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow had experienced a great deal of personal tragedy leading up to Christmas day 1863. On that morning he heard the church bells ringing loud and pondered not only the absence of peace in his own life, but the absence of peace in a country ripped apart by civil war. The poem speaks to seeking out peace on earth and goodwill towards men even in the midst of hate and suffering. This poem reminds us that seeking peace is often an act of resistance towards powers at play in our world.
Then there’s the old carol “O Holy Night.” This song is actually taken from a French poem. The English version very much carries the same meaning as the original. The third verse specifically stands out as a work of resistance. In the mid 19th century the western world was being forced to face the horror and evil it had carried out in the form of slavery. Europe went through this first and the United States faced the same reality shortly after. It is in this carol where we are reminded once again that God is breaking chains. He is freeing the oppressed. In His love and our love for one another, Christ will set us free.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is Peace
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
And in His name, all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us Praise His Holy name
Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim
His power and glory evermore proclaim
The birth of the Messiah was understood to be the beginning of a resistance. Many in Isreal believed the Messiah would free them from Roman occupation. They believed He would be a military leader. They were right to assume He would bring resistance. They were wrong in their understanding of resistance and the Kingdom of God. Jesus did come in a form of resistance. His birth immediately signaled a threat to Herod. His life and teachings threatened the Jewish leaders. He was put to death in the place of one who sought resistance through violence. With the exchange of Jesus for Barabas, we see Jesus signaling that His way of resistance looks very different.
Before Jesus was even born, Isreal looked for this Messiah. The prophets of old spoke of Him and gave glimpses of what this future would look like. Isaiah states it clearly at the beginning of his book when he writes,
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war.
But we’re not there yet. Jesus has come. The Kingdom of Heaven is crashing into this world. With that, we will continue to see the difference even more. We will see evil and injustice with ever clearer eyes.
Christmas reminds us of the hope of Christ. It reminds us of love, joy, and peace. In doing so, we are clearly reminded of the already, not yet Kingdom. If we’re paying attention, Christmas will shine a spotlight on the evils and injustices still at work in our world. These are the areas where we will be called to resist. Like our brothers and sisters who have gone before, we need to let Christmas give us new eyes to see. May this season remind us that we need to continue to resist as His Kingdom continues to breakthrough.If we're paying attention, Christmas will shine a spotlight on the evils and injustices still at work in our world Click To Tweet