Christmas in the New Year

While Christmas decorations are starting to come down and the world’s attention is turned to the celebration of the new year, I am still immersed in Christmas. Many people where we live try to observe the entire Christmas season—all twelve days of it—as a time of celebration, feasting, and reflection.  Amid all the figurines and pictures of Baby Jesus and Santa, the Christmas trees and lights, and the banners reading “Joy to the World” and “Peace on Earth” that continue to surround us, it is easy to think of Christmas as a holiday of babies and presents, a holiday for sentimental families and little children too young to realize that Santa isn’t real. Perhaps this is why so many people in so many places quickly turn their attention to New Years and its more adult concerns, its personal resolutions for being thinner, fitter and better people in the new year…and of course to more adult celebrations involving libations and general merriment.

But New Years and Christmas are integral to each other in ways that we frequently miss as we turn our attention to the Harbour Bridge, Big Ben or Times Square. The central message of Christmas is the initiation of a new order, a new kingdom in the world: the kingdom of God characterized by peace but also by justice. Peace—suggested by images of cuddly lions and lambs snuggled together—makes a nice Hallmark card but justice is more difficult. In fact, peace without justice is not peace at all—it is merely silencing the abused for the comfort of those in power.

In Mary’s celebratory hymn announcing the birth of her son, she declares the revolutionary new order that begins with her son’s life…and it isn’t just a spiritual kingdom. Mary declares that the character of the new kingdom which God initiates through her son is one of justice for the poor. In her hymn God scatters the proud and mighty but exalts the humble and meek. He “fills the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:46-55). This message of freedom and justice echoes Isaiah’s earlier proclamations that the messiah will shatter the “yoke that burdens” Israel and the “rod of their oppressor,” reminding us of Israel’s slavery in Egypt and, consequently, that justice is a physical, material reality and not just a nice idea (Isaiah 9:4). This language of justice, of setting right the relationships between the rich and poor, the mighty and the weak, the powerful and the oppressed permeates the traditional Christmas readings, reminding us that the lovely thoughts of “peace on earth” and “goodwill toward men” are only possible because God’s kingdom is characterized by justice.

As we move into the New Year and take stock of the world in 2011, making our resolutions to be thinner, fitter, better people, the most important New Year’s resolution we can make is to remember the message of justice that shapes the Christmas story and to resolve anew to participate in the work of God’s kingdom, striving for justice and peace in our still imperfect world.

Jessica Hughes

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5 responses to “Christmas in the New Year

    • Thanks for the video, Philip! It certainly highlights the difficult and radical nature of our Lord’s teachings in the context of US politics in an entertaining and challenging wayand is much more fun than my post :)

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