I recently heard that we’d all be saying “Merry Christmas again very soon," and it got me thinking:
I have absolutely no idea what to get my brother for Christmas. If it pleases the court, I'd like to submit into evidence that quite literally no one, across the expanse of recorded history, has ever known what to get their brother. This is the bedrock earnings foundation Sky Mall is built upon. As Jesus would probably have put it were he to survive a red-eye into Atlanta: Sky Mall may be a lot of things (toilet paper in a pinch), but one thing it ain’t, is built on sand.
Oh, and speaking of Jesus and holiday travel, did you know that just after his birth (in the Gospel of Matthew), Mary, Joe, and baby Jesus fled to Egypt from their ancestral home in Bethlehem thanks to a local tyrant’s (Herod Antipas) decision to anxiously murder every newborn infant in an effort to kill his would-be successor, the aforementioned baby Jesus.
Christmas has always been particularly messy.
This episode of Christmas brutality (much like last year when Fuller wet the bed) even has a catchy name in scholarly circles: “The Massacre of the Innocents,” which come to think of it is also an excellent subtitle to the GOP’s-SET FIRE TO EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE (WHO ISN’T A CONSTITUTIONALLY RECOGNIZED CORPORATION PRETENDING TO BE A PERSON) AS A WAY OF MELTING OUR REPUBLIC DOWN INTO GOLD TEETH HEALTH INSURANCE CEO’S CAN WEAR IRONICALLY AS RAPPER GRILLS-Tax Plan*.
(*NOTE: If that was a mouthful, I would have also accepted: “Certain Death: A Merry Christmas Tax Plan Everyone Will Definitely Love and Not Starve to Death in Grad School Because Of.”)
There are moments in all of our lives when the clouds part and you hear something you’ve spent most of your time on Earth uttering, trusting, believing, following, and singing along with, in the mouth of someone else with whom every fiber in you disagrees, and it calls the ground of your being into question.
The room starts spinning, and it won’t stop, even as you puke.
This is what it feels like when our President weaponizes “Merry Christmas”. There’s something inherently soul crushing about having the unexpected interruption of Jesus into a world of cyclical violence parading as the only way to peace, turned into some saber to be incoherently rattled in the same breath as an offhanded mention of our impending thermonuclear war with North Korea...and tax cuts.
Can't forget those "massive" tax cuts, our children certainly won’t.
Someone once told me, I believe as dating advice in college (because all advice in college is about dating), that your job as a follower of Jesus is to run towards the thing you were put here to do, and in the midst of your pursuit, when you look around, the people who are still running alongside you are the ones to notice.
For a date, I’m assuming.
The recent political developments (I’m just caught up to Tuesday night, so if it gets worse please NO SPOILERS) have motivated me to look up from my current pursuit of a life spent attempting to concretely practice the way of a 1st century, executed political dissident born to an engaged teenager in a backwater town on the edge of imperial power, to see if anyone else is still tracking with me.
Due to a myriad of factors, the way I’ve ended up making sense of this pursuit has forced me to ask a lot of questions about why, in my city, roughly 3 percent of graduates from East Knoxville public high schools finish a 4 year college degree compared to roughly 25 times that number in West Knoxville public high schools.
Or why many women of various traditions can’t occasionally rock the mic on a Sunday in the name of the aforementioned Jesus of Nazareth and his rag-tag gang of zealots, misfits, former prostitutes, and the well-heeled 1st century women paying his bills.
Or why LGBTQ folks can’t often preach, pray, sing, teach, lead, weep, and wed in front o’GAWD and errybody.
Or why the only metric determining our collective and individual morality is a deposit slip.
Or why the Bible has to be read literally when it concerns the sex lives of people we don’t know, and has to be read figuratively when it concerns the bank accounts and voting patterns of people we do know.
And, when I finally looked up in the churches who raised me, or employed me, or both, I discovered not many of us were on the same path anymore.
Things were said.
Beliefs were questioned.
Tears were shed.
Goodbyes were had.
And paths diverged.
At some point, I found that I have become the kind of person who says “happy holidays," not because I’ve traded in my Christian spirituality for that NPR tote-bag they hand out to everyone willing to self-identify as “agnostic and looking" during freshman orientation at your super liberal undergrad, but because “Merry Christmas” no longer means an interruption to violence parading as the only way to peace, it now actually means the very perpetuance of violence and partisan rhetoric parading as the only way to peace.
I used to mourn my loss of certainty, and security, and the endorphin spike of having a tribe who has been, is currently, and will be eternally right about things none of us know for sure.
But then right in the midst of feeling entirely unsure about whether I (or “they”) had lost the plot on what Christianity is about, 8.8 pounds of screaming newness entered my world, and in the profound disruption accompanying the smallest human I’ve ever met, it was like, for the first time, maybe ever, the room stopped spinning (even if I kept puking). Slowly, after my son was born, things began developing this kind of crystalline clarity, even if on the outside I looked even more chaotic and scatterplot and anxious.
I was and am still chaotic, and scatterplot, and anxious (a newborn and now a toddler will do that to you), but I find that I’m no longer anxious to fix myself, or to finally discover occupational and theological equilibrium, I was and am anxious to create a home, a family, a faith community, and a world worthy of my son.
When I get to the end of things I won’t be explaining myself to the people who rejected me, or called my identity and theology into question repeatedly, or emailed in ALL CAPS, because it will be my son, and probably my wife (she’s much healthier) looking down at me and combing back my hair and whispering in my ear.
I only have to explain myself to them.
So I find that I no longer give much of a damn about whether you agree, or if I’m walking alone sometimes, or if I ever get paid for any of this, because when things were the darkest for me, this helpless being greeted me, literally, in the middle of the night, and wiped my slate clean. His presence, even with poop in the trunk, forgave my sins, and my shortcomings, and my baggage, and my fear, and my brokenness, and the limp I’ll probably walk with forever because of who I am and where I come from. It’s like his birth gave birth to me and now we’re exploring this brand new world together.
In this new world my son has invited me into, we no longer have time to slow down for saber rattlers and hate mongers and wall builders.
This is what I imagine people meant when they wished one another happy holidays centuries ago, because the word “holiday” is a short-hand for the word holy-day. As in, these are the days that are teeming with life, and grace, and peace, and unexpected interruptions from the divine, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas.
Or maybe especially, if you’re now mandated to celebrate the Christmas of our American Empire...or else.
Historically, this season is an invitation for all of us to open ourselves up to the truth that infants can’t be weaponized, they can only be cared for, and noticed, and fed, and allowed to change everything about how we live minute to minute to minute.
The choice is only whether you let them change you or not.
Their very presence mandates a decision...was that the monitor!?!?!
Which, is why I believe God chose to inhabit the womb of an impoverished recently-engaged teenager on the underside of imperial power, because a pregnant woman and her baby are the only things powerful enough to unravel everything.
Speaking personally, they unraveled me, and if you’ll let them, they’ll unravel you too.
photo credit: Creative Commons