It’s Christmas, and we’re taking the day off. While we look forward to unplugging from the world for a bit, and turning off the relentless broadcasts and push notifications of the latest in the round-the-clock crises that have become our reality, we can’t help worrying a bit about what we’ll find when we return to the world.
Should we really be taking our eye off the ball, even if it’s only for 24 hours?
Our government has been locked in a partial shutdown. The White House is dismantling democracy. Desperate refugees are suffering at our southern borders. Wall Street is nose-diving.
All is not well beyond our shores, either, in this hyper-connected world we call home. The bloodshed in Syria. The chaos of Brexit. The tinderboxes that are Iran and North Korea. The melting ice caps.
And right here at home, 2018 has brought us a grand-jury report into decades of statewide sex abuse in the Catholic Church. There are frightening levels of lead and toxins in the city’s public schools. An opioid-overdose epidemic and a poverty rate that keeps the city in a stranglehold. And the relentless presence of guns, including the slaughter of worshipers in a Pittsburgh synagogue
Has the world ever felt this bad? It’s tempting to say, “We will never come back from this. This could be the worst Christmas ever.”
Well, except for all 10 Christmases during the Great Depression, when the most extravagant present might be an orange. And except for the 1941 Christmas that fell just 18 days after the Pearl Harbor bombing killed 2,400 Americans, wounded 1,000, and threw us into war with the Axis. Or 10 years ago, when folks were left broke and homeless by the Great Recession.
Those hard times passed. Hard times always do, replaced by new ones we either don’t see coming or feel helpless to stop when we do.
Still, given how dire the world seems, taking a breather just because it’s Christmas may seem reckless. But the truth is, it’s more reckless not to.
We need the infusion of hope that Christmas brings — through its carols of comfort and joy, its prayers for peace and goodwill — if we’re to fix a world that needs moral clarity and open hearts.
We need to be ready to honor the real call of Christmas, as described so beautifully by the American philosopher and theologian Howard Thurman in his poem,“The Work of Christmas”:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.