By Dr. Allyson Carr, Associate Secretary, Justice Ministries

Christmas is often experienced as a time of familiarity and hope, even joy; of gathering and celebrating new life. This Christmas is…likely to be different from the Christmases most of us remember.

Reflecting on that, I was looking for Christmas songs that could speak to the difficulty of our present times, and one in particular came to mind. In 1966, Simon and Garfunkel released a song called “Silent Night/7 O’Clock News .” For those of you not familiar with the song, it layers a curated newscast of events from the summer of 1966 over the voices of the two singers singing the familiar words of the first verse of “Silent Night.” The hymn starts out as the focus of the piece. As the song proceeds, the newscast becomes louder and louder, taking one’s focus from the well-known carol and directing it to events that are anything but peaceful: a failed attempt to legislate an end to racial discrimination policies in housing, marches for racial justice where the police respond by calling for the National Guard to be mobilized, misogynist murders, political divides and suspicion, protests and war.

These are, of course, themes that continue today in the news, many of them linked with the increased vulnerability that the pandemic has caused for groups that have long been targeted for discrimination. If you didn’t know the history of the song or catch the names of the people the newscast revolved around (President Johnson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Speck), it would be quite easy to conclude that the newscast is from this year. You could be pardoned for wondering only why it didn’t include the daily coronavirus case count. In fact, the song has been re-done at least twice in the last four years by different bands inserting more contemporary newscasts—even one in Spanish. But in all three versions of the song I’ve heard, the structure is the same: the familiar, comforting words of the carol describing the miracle of God made incarnate as a baby born to a young mother in Bethlehem is slowly overshadowed as injustice after injustice, loss after loss, piles on.

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.