(Originally posted in December 2019)
(Warning : for some, this post might sound more like a sermon. Seems to be in my blood so I gotta let it out once in a while.)
Whether you believe the biblical story of Jesus’ birth to be true, whether you approach it as symbolic or even if you don’t give it any attention at all, I think we might agree on something. Hold on for a second while I make my way there. Here’s what I mean.
For Christianity, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of the divine, God with us, the Kingdom of God come to restore and make all things new. Ok, fine. But what does all this have to do with Christmas and Power?
I’m referring to power as authority. More specifically, the abuse of it. In other words, people who use their authority, their power, for personal gain and advancement at the cost of the wellbeing of others. If anything, power loses in the face of Christmas. They don’t really have anything in common. Christmas is a time for a look in the mirror.
After all, it’s a time of joy, peace, hope and love. Christmas brings people together. Christmas puts a smile on our faces. Christmas can bring out the good in people. Christmas brings out generosity toward those we love and toward those in need. During the holidays, most of us are thinking about ways to make people’s lives better, not worst. (In writing this, I realize I’m writing from a place of privilege and that there are many for which Christmas is a dark reminder of pain and suffering. While I may not be able to fully identify with what you have gone through, I can only hope that in the midst of the darkness and chaos, you will be able to experience some joy.)
If anything, even in the midst of the extravagance with which many of us celebrate it, there is something humble about Christmas and the spirit of it.
From the time Jesus came along to the time he went away, there was a certain type of person who was always rubbed the wrong way by his presence, his words and his actions. These people were those in authority, those with power. It was not their authority that caused them to be irked by Jesus, it was because they misused the authority that they had and were being called out for it. It was their desire to be powerful and to use that power to keep others beneath them. Their position depended on their ability to keep others under control, to keep their subjects needy and too oppress and subdue them. People in power using their influence, their words, their money and even other people, to stay on top no matter the cost.
We read about King Herod being greatly troubled when he heard about the birth of another king. His rule was being threatened. What did he do? He ordered the slaughter of all male children under the age of 2. Ya, he was afraid of the very thought of losing his power. He did not care about destroying all those families as long as he did not lose his power. If twitter had been around at the time, I’d bet King Herod would have been tweeting nasty tweets left and right.
But it wasn’t only the political leaders who feared him. It was the religious and spiritual ones too. Abuse of religious authority is not new, it was alive and well centuries ago. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day hated him with a vengeance because they were threatened by his teachings. When Jesus taught, it made them look bad and highlighted the way they abused their authority. The way they used God to make a name for themselves.
We read about the religious leaders being perplexed even as they spoke with him when he was barely into his teens. We read about plots to get rid of him because he said he would overthrow the religious system that had control over people. We read about him getting angry in the temple court at the sight of the poor and common people being oppressed by religion. Some of the stories he taught put the religious leaders on edge. They were afraid. They were filled with hate. They were happy to align themselves with political leaders if it meant they could maintain some of their power over people as well. They had much to lose if people were to understand the true spirit of what Jesus was doing and teaching. To love your neighbour as yourself.
Regardless of the angle with which you come at it, Christmas is an opportunity for us to look inside and ask ourselves what kind of people we are? Are we using our privilege, our power, our authority and our wealth to prop ourselves up and pull others down or are we using those things, no matter how much or how little of it we think we have, to love the other and make a difference around us? To do the latter is not weakness. It is true power.