Rabbis On Meaning of Christmas: The Downward Mobility of Good at Christmas

23 December 2010

By Rabbi Lerner

The Downward Mobility of God to a Stable at Christmas, Rev.Lynice Pinkard provides an anti-empire perspective on Christmas

Before Talking About Christmas and the deep spiritual meanings that it evokes, it's important to set out some context. I believe we are in a nose-dive toward death as a culture, because of the forces of the imperial system, the world domination system, militarism, and our compulsion to consume and acquire. The consumptive anti-human forces that are being unleashed on this planet provides for me the backdrop for the Christmas holiday.

In the Christian scriptures, the prophesying and heralding of the birth of Jesus reflected a general sense that salvation--deep rescue--was coming through this baby. The Jewish people, then, were thinking of Israel and that deep healing and renewal were coming for their nation. As Christians, there's a way that we could extend the notion of deep rescue, healing, and renewal to our world. Jesus comes with the Holy Spirit that baptizes us with the spirit of life, the life giving power of God that heals and repairs what's broken and damaged by the deathly behavior of created beings. At Christmas, in my congregation, I want to raise up this possibility for healing and restoration, for a salvific power of renewal in the midst of death.

One of the primary characteristics we see in empire, and in colonization processes, is that they work from the top down and the outside in. But the Holy Spirit works from the bottom up and the inside out. One of the scriptural principles that we talk about in our congregation is the principle of light; that it's a little light here, a little light there amidst the darkness, and the principle is that God's light has the possibility of penetrating the darkness and transforming it to light. This light is the witness of God's life in the world, and it is how the world will be transformed--through a collaborative process with God, of God's friends embodying light in the world and bringing it to the world.

Amidst the commercialization and the utter opulence of how some people celebrate Christmas, it's easy to forget that Jesus was born in a crowded stable, full of poor people who had been forced to come to Bethlehem for the census. They were poor people, compelled by the empire to register for taxes. This wasn't the traditional German hymn of "Silent Night", with its evocation of cozy comfort and warmth around the fire; instead God's spirit and life were busting through, in Jesus, into the midst of disenfranchisement and poverty and deep oppression, and that speaks to what one might call the downward mobility of God.

Remembering this scene might provide a way to overcome the emotional and spiritual distance that our commercialized symbolism has created. Our congregation doesn't put up a tree, or a creche--we leave that to the supermarket across the street--but it would be interesting to try and replicate the festival of booths, of people putting up tents. On one side of the street you'd have a storefront with the green and red lights and your traditional Christmas tree, and on the opposite side you'd have tents made out of straw or bales of hay, showing solidarity with homeless and poor people, and creating the kind of busy crowded scene that occurred with all of the people flooding into Bethlehem.

This solidarity is something that we must all embrace, including our children. Most kids' involvement with Christmas emphasizes receiving presents; if they give presents, it is still just a part of receiving, part of the more general process of acquiring and getting, of more and more and more. We should emphasize what it means to really give, and help our children make connections between acquiring and consumption and the suffering of the other people in the world. At the root of this solidarity is the fact that Jesus himself, historically, was not Christian but Jewish. If we, as Christians, seriously commit to follow Jesus--in all of his life-giving, love-connecting generosity--we must bring to our children's consciousness the fact that we are bound to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, pagans, to everyone, everywhere and to all creation. This, rather than consumption, is what we must reinforce.

As we ask ourselves, with a view toward ethics, what ought we to do in order to eradicate (or at least stem the tide of) the imperialist system of domination, we must remember that we can't just attack deathliness on its own terms; we must meet death with life. If we want to proclaim the salvific power of Christ's love, and to manifest that glory of God in the world, we have to show what God looks like on this planet. We have to collaborate with God by working for the flourishing of life everywhere, for all people and for creation. If Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, it also celebrates the birth of the Spirit of life, coming up though all of creation to arrest the death process. For Christians, the birth of the Spirit of life in our hearts means we must bring more love, more amnesty and grace, more mercy and compassion, more radical hospitality and welcome, more peace and healing and a greater determination to produce a just and free society. In essence, Christmas allows us to witness the power of God's life coming out under its own force in and through us.

Rev. Lynice Pinkard is a pastor at the First Congregational Church in Oakland, California, and a therapist whose work is dedicated to decolonizing the human spirit and resisting the forces and structures of domination that destroy us and our planet. This article appeared originally in Tikkun magazine, and Pinkard's latest article will appear in Tikkun's Jan/Feb issue 2011.

Save the Date: March 14, 2011

YOU ARE INVITED TO CELEBRATE THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF TIKKUN MAGAZINE on Monday evening, March 14, 2011. At the Pauley Ballroom of the University of California, Berkeley. You can come for the previous weekend, experience a Jewish Renewal celebration of the Sabbath (Shabbat) with Rabbi Lerner on Friday eve, March 11th, and Torah study March 12th, and spend March 13th with others in the Network of Spiritual Progressives as we discuss strategy and future projects. Then join the festivities on the evening of March 14th.

At the 25th Anniversary Celebration, we will present the Tikkun Award to the following recipients who will be present to receive the award:

*Justice Richard Goldstone, author of the UN report on human rights violations on Rwanda, Bosnia, and most recently and controversially, on Gaza during the Israeli attack 2008-2009 *Congressman Raul Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, leader of the pro-human rights for immigrants who supported a call for a national boycott of Arizona and nevertheless was reelected to his Congressional seat from Arizona! *Naomi Newman, co-founder of A Traveling Jewish Theatre *C.K. Williams, Pulitzer-prize winning poet whose poetry appears in Tikkun *Sheikh Hamza Yussuf, founder of the first American-rooted Islamic study center in the US: Zaytuna College



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