It’s Advent, and so we’re waiting for Christmas, but the waiting has sharp edges this year. Christmas itself is weaponised – the phrase “Merry Christmas” has become less of a greeting and more of a shibboleth, a password to identify who’s in and who’s out. A Muslim family appearing in a supermarket’s festival TV advert has attracted controversy for depressing and predictable reasons. We’ve taken barbed wire and hidden it within tinsel while singing Christmas carol mash-ups with conspiracy theories.
When Mary sang her protest song, she sang it from the bottom of society, a young woman in an occupied country. Those at the centre of the story – women and shepherds and carpenters – don’t have power, don’t have influence. And yet two thousand years later we see power and influence and authority and might as our Christmas gifts, heralded by discordant carols as the Now-and-Not-Yet Kingdom is driven further underground.
It’s not just geopolitics in which we see this. The words we use around church also have an impact; in recent weeks we’ve seen US politicians try to justify relationships with underage girls because of the traditional Catholic depiction of the relationship between Mary and Joseph. Using the Christmas story to sanctify child abuse is horrific, but it was still all over Twitter.
Things can also be insidious. Both of my kids are autistic, and we’re currently having a lot of difficult and hurtful and frustrating conversations about behaviours and responsibility and how they’re seen as ‘naughty’, and this isn’t getting easier because timetables and environments are thrown out of sync because it’s Christmas. And this is so damn difficult, because my kids are trying to navigate a world that’s lacking in empathy and understanding and compassion, and I fear for what it might do to them. So when we go to church to celebrate the coming of Christ, I don’t want them to feel rejected by words and attitudes that are born out of privilege and influence and ‘respectability’. I want them to be able to see Jesus. I want Jesus to meet with them.
I know he already does, of course; that’s a truth I need to hold on. But too many dangerous things are done in his name, and for that we need to repent. If we’re going to commemorate the coming of the Prince of Peace, we need to disarm our celebrations, because otherwise we end up more like Herod, pretending to worship but really more interested in consolidating our power, and though we think we’re in charge, well, the Wise Men didn’t find Jesus in a palace, did they, and the gossip around Mary and Joseph certainly wouldn’t have painted them as ‘respectable’. We need to stop seeing Christmas as a private possession and more of a gift to the world.
Because power isn’t the gift of Christmas. Grace is. Love is. Incarnation is. And when we seek to turn that into a weapon, we turn Christmas into a blasphemy. And so we need to stop seeing Christmas as a private possession and more of a gift to the world; we need to disarm, disarm our celebrations and songs and theologies and turn our swords into sleighbells.