As my faith has changed over the last few years, I’ve faced the challenge of trying to determine what Christmas means to me. I believe there is power in secular aspects of the holiday (that haven’t been completely poisoned by mass consumerism) – it’s a dark, cold time of year in this part of the world, and there’s value in lighting lights, cooking special foods, and taking the time to be with family and friends. But, as long as I call myself a Christian, I feel like my Solstice celebrations should not completely ignore the fact that this is one of the biggest holidays of the Christian calendar.
But, when actually seeking to understand the meaning of the holiday, what’s a non-Biblical-literalist atonement-questioning liberal girl to do? My attempt at finding an answer: take a page from the book of Borg, and read the Christmas story for its metaphorical truth. Despite my previous life as a student of English literature, I like what Borg said about seeing metaphorical truth in the Bible, but I haven’t actually put it into practice very often. But, staying home from Church this past Sunday, and spurred on by the feeling that the third Sunday of Advent shouldn’t just be spent with a cup of tea and a novel, I opened up the gospels and read the accounts of the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke.
First stop was Luke. For those of you playing along at home who (like me) don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bible, Luke is the guy who brings us Mary’s hymn and the shepherds. And I noticed a link between these two images: in Mary’s hymn, she talks about the proud being humbled while the poor are raised up. And then, with the story about the shepherds, we see this put into action: God’s own messengers appearing to farm labourers. If there’s a central metaphor in Luke’s Christmas story, it points towards a social order that undermines the usual hierarchies, and it suggests that our hope can be found in the most unexpected of places. After the angels chose the shepherds as the unlikely welcome party for the new king, they sent them off to visit a baby in a barn: hardly a symbol of power.
Next: Matthew. Matthew gives us the Magi’s journey and Herod’s schemes. There are a lot of dreams helping people to make the right decision and, of course, the star. The repeated refrain is that everything that happened took place to fulfill the prophecies. On one level, it feels a bit like a murder mystery that brings the clues together all too neatly at the end. But on the other hand, it contextualizes our hero: the message is that Jesus didn’t come out of nowhere; that God always has a plan and that; in God’s own time, that plan will get carried out. Like the story from Luke that big things that can come from a baby in a barn, this, too, is a message of hope.
I’ve been finding myself getting depressed by the news recently. It seems like when people aren’t blowing each other up, they’re screwing each other over or, at the very least, taking pot shots for a cheap laugh. So this year, I am going to try to find the hope and the promise in the Christmas stories, and try to have them affect the way I look at, and interact with, the world. After all, only one more week and the days start getting longer again.