"Christmas in the Desert"
-in my meditation garden-
It is very peaceful and absolutely quiet in my garden this morning as the sun rises on this Christmas Eve. I suppose that, in some sense, peace and silence are quite appropriate for what is celebrated across the world on this December 24 when people will gather in darkened churches, light candles at midnight and listen to the stories and sing the all-familiar carols of the birth of the Christ in Bethlehem.
Christmas Eve is a mystical time filled with the poetry of peace and calm - a star glows brightly as angels in the heavens tenderly sing a birthday song. They point shepherds to a stable where a sweet baby lies fast asleep wrapped in a little blanket nestled in a manger. Mary and Joseph are aglow with delight. Even the animals seem to respond to the holy moment - sheep and cows snug in the hay look lovingly at the newborn babe.
While I love the beautiful poetry of Christmas, I am also "cautious"about it. I think there is a fine line between poetry and piety. The Christmas story is beautiful but it can border on being too sweet, a little too saccharine for my taste. People can hide from the world in the imagery of that sweet Christmas story instead of going out and facing it and changing it.
In fact, in some sense that tender Christmas tale about the babe born in a manger elicits feelings in me that are anything but tender and gentle, calm and peaceful.
The story of the birth of the Christ is a subversive story - a story about the birth of a revolution.
That sweet little babe in a manger would grow up to proclaim a message that would boldly stand in diametric opposition to the culture of his day- a culture of empire and temple in which only the healthy and the wealthy were given value or afforded respect.
That sweet little babe in a manger would grow up to passionately proclaim a message of a new world order in which everyone would be treated with equal dignity. That little baby would become an enemy of the state and an opponent of the institutional religion of his day by daring to embrace outcasts and sinners, foreigners and pagans, the lepers and the lame into his circle of belonging - no one ever on the outside looking in.
In fact that little babe born in a manger would become such a revolutionary figure that he would ultimately be executed for his subversion -nailed to a cross.
However, his message and his revolution in the cause of justice and compassion would not die on a cross because Jesus entrusted any who would follow in his footsteps, in all places and in all times, to continue his revolution of compassion and reconciliation.
In the earliest days of Christianity, those first followers of Jesus would meet in darkened caves and catacombs - hidden in the shadows of night. They were enemies of the state, considered to be subversive revolutionaries because of the message of love and compassion that they lived and preached - so opposed to the accepted cultural norms of dominance and oppression.
However, over time, it all got tamed and declawed. Those revolutionaries in the cause of love became "members of a church," replete with a hierarchy of importance and a system of laws and regulations about who belonged and who didn't. Over time the revolutionary disciples would become the very thing Jesus opposed.
Tonight as people from all over the world gather in darkened churches in the middle of the night to sing about peace and calm and hear the sweet poetry of a baby's birth, I pray that they may remember again that revolutionary mission entrusted to those who would be his followers.
As the songs are sung in the hush of the night, I pray that those who gather together might also remember their ancestors who likewise gathered in the middle of the night in those darkened caves for fear of being arrested by the forces of the empire, and that songs of calm might also be loud protests in the cause of compassion.
Long Live the Revolution!
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