The Herod Vs. Santa Smack Down… for Advent and Peace
“Oh Holy Night..,” the classic Christmas time hymn, is running through my heart and mind this month and as we head into the second Sunday in Advent in which we celebrate peace, I keep lingering on the last stanza.
“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…”
His gospel is peace… His good news is peace…
I often think of peace as the absent of conflict, either on a macro level where one government agrees to not engage in war with another, or at a micro level around the holiday dinner table where one family member agrees to co-exist with another. Or I find myself talking about my need for ‘peace and quiet’ as I’m looking to escape my current life for a little time at a spa with candles and bubbles and a massage.
Yet, the Hebrew idea of peace, Shalom, is much more than the absence of conflict or an escape from everyday life. Shalom suggests the completeness of our life, where one’s needs are met and they are found in good welfare, and where relationships are made right and whole and they have a life-giving quality. Peace… where needs are met and where relationships give life. That’s what I am after.
I’m lingering longer on the characters on the perimeter of the biblical nativity story this year. Last week, as I leaned into hope, I realized my own temptation to be like the innkeeper declaring ‘there’s no room’ and missing an opportunity to encounter God in Jesus. Now, with peace, I see how I can be like Herod. Of course, I’m no baby killer, but think about it… Herod, stuck in his own desire for power and control, greedy for his own luxury and anxious to maintain the status quo, sought through manipulation and demands to put down the innocent. And in doing so he never met the living God.
It’s time to be more like the wise men. They were not concerned with their own wealth and their own kingdom building. They were eager to make the effort to bless and share their gifts. They traveled at great personal expense, both financially and time-wise, in order to offer lavish gifts in humility. And those gifts provided the much need financial support to Jesus’ family as they fled as refugees to Egypt in order to escape Herod’s wrath.
So the challenge begins to hold a mirror up to myself. When am I Herod? When do I operate out of anxiety? Greed? Feel a need to be sneaky? Keep the status quo? When am I manipulative? Demanding? About my own interests? When do I have a desire for power? Control? Luxury?
And when can I choose a better way and be like the wise men? How can I be generous? Humble? Share? Support others? Protect the vulnerable? Show up in times in need?
The bottom line is peace is not merely something my government does or does not achieve and it is not something I briefly escape to. Rather it is something I actively pursue for myself and for others, where all have their needs met and relationships are brought to wholeness. We are called to this peacemaking now. It not an abstract ideal for some future time.
Seek justice now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. (Micah 6:8)
As stark as this sounds, if our Christmas is filled with only niceties and does not embody care for the least of these, comfort for the people on the margins of society, then we have missed the mark. For the LORD has spoken, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me….Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24)
So how can we in a very practical way do this… bring justice and righteousness and peace this Christmas? How can we ‘love one another?’ How can we break chains holding ‘our brother’ and our sister? How can we be good news?
Begin by making apologies both for the things said and done, and also for the things which were not said and not done, for the moments of silence and apathy in the face of another’s struggle. (This one I’m working on.)
Make efforts to know someone different from you who needs your advocacy and assistance. Sometimes they are right around the corner in your own neighborhood or school or work place, and other times you need to volunteer for a local organization to do this. This always involves stepping outside of our comfort zone. Ask questions and really listen to the answers.
Offer practical, ‘boots on the ground’ support to people that struggle or to groups that support them. The internet is full of both groups of people that are struggling and ways to give. Children need toys; parents need jackets and food; shelters need hygiene supplies. Donate your stuff, your money, your time, and your mental energy to learn how to really be of assistance.
Lastly, unfollow. Clear your mind from toxic speech. We all have positions we feel strongly about and that is good, but don’t let an organization you agree with in their end goal get away with shady methods. Especially common on Facebook and Twitter are the people and organizations that slander and demean their opponents and offer little practical suggestions. Get rid of that crap. Don’t put up with it. Insist upon common respect and meaningful discourse. And choose one organization on the other side to follow. Get curious about why half the people think differently than you do. Seek common ground.
This does not have to be all bah-hum-bug, though. Put on your favorite Santa hat and get busy giving cheer. We often forget that our modern Santa Claus is based upon a real life, fourth century Bishop, Saint Nicholas, who is known for acts of kindness and generosity, particularly for children and done in humility. The most famous legend is how Saint Nick secretly gave three bags of gold to a poor farmer so that each of his daughters could avoid slavery by having a dowry. Join in the true spirit of Santa and have you and your family give generously, maybe even in secret, to those in need. #TeamSanta
We make gestures for peace, for Shalom, because God has done that first for us. In Christmas, we celebrate God’s great embrace of us, by coming to be with us, and for us, and ultimately to make our relationship with God whole, set right and to give us life, true life, abundant and full and everlasting. #TeamJesus
‘His law is love and His gospel is peace.’
PS – This blog post is post 2 in a 4 part series for Advent. You can check the other’s out with the links below.
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Tagged: Amos 5, Christmas, justice, micah 6:8, peace, santa