This year feels at times like the embodiment of that song, with messages of hope and despair battling for our attention. As I began my annual preparations for Christmas, I found myself drawn to this song as a way to reflect on where we are today: is it really all that different from that first Christmas all those years ago?
The more I thought about the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, the more I realized that the times are not so different. Imperialism, land occupation, racial and economic oppression, violence and conflict, and the targeting of children by dominating regimes…those events are wholly at odds with the peaceful night the carol describes and yet they are strikingly familiar to us and were the context for that first Christmas. Indeed, the silent and holy night more likely experienced on Christ’s birth would have been filled with anxiety and uncertainty, food and housing insecurity, exhaustion and fear.
Reflecting on all that reminded me that it is into circumstances of upheaval, need and conflict that God chose to become incarnate—and that brings me hope for these troubled times we live in too. Peace and security and plenty were not needed for God to come to us in Bethlehem, and the lack of those things does not stop God being present among us today.
If we were to imagine the material from this issue of Streams of Justice as a newscast to be read alongside the words of Silent Night now, what would we hear? Injustices and conflict, surely, as the authors address issues such as systemic racism and hate, the pressing need for ongoing reconciliation work amid violations of Indigenous rights, struggles with White fragility, and the difficult topic of nuclear war. And yet, hope and light push stubbornly back, and we see the individual and collective efforts of those working to embody the Love born Christmas morning. We hear of those learning about and working to end systemic racism, standing up for Indigenous rights and calling for healing and reconciliation, even being part of a wider community that has worked for years on the international Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. We would hear of ecumenical efforts such as the For the Love of Creation initiative that highlight the importance of climate change advocacy from a faith perspective. And as I am finishing writing this, we have just learned the government has tabled Bill C-15 , legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—that too would be part of our newscast. (You can learn more at Faith in the Declaration .)
Of course, systemic racism and colonialism still exist. Of course, the pandemic is still active and conflicts continue. Sometimes it is hard to hear, see or feel hope: the underlying tune of God’s presence. And yet the song persists, and we can join it. So this Christmas, amidst reaching out virtually to all the people I dearly miss and finding new ways to be family and community when gathering in large groups is not possible, I am trying to practice holy silence—anticipation of the breaking-in of God’s hope and presence amidst our newscasts, and our lives, today. I am thinking of ways to join in holy song that sings in written word, in advocacy, in learning, in reaching out, of love and presence.
May this Christmas bring us all those moments of being held in God’s love, and of reflecting that love in concrete ways—be that virtual connection, help, or advocacy—to others.