AWith many Americans pausing to celebrate the Christmas holidays this weekend, it is tempting to wish for a momentary pause in our public life of incessant conflict. Between a president who has refused to accept the reality of his defeat and an entire subculture that has made denying science a culture war amid a global pandemic, an incredible amount of energy has been invested in the division this year. While it may feel good to romanticize the spirit of the season and wish everyone a “Merry Christmas”, it would be more true to both the original Christmas story and our current circumstances to wish each other a “Grief Christmas”.
Two thousand years ago, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, inequality was rampant. Rulers of the client state like King Herod in Judea used their power to accumulate wealth from poor subjects. Jesus, the son of God, was born into a poor family that could not find a room to rent in Bethlehem. His birth was not celebrated by the wealthy or the politically powerful, but by migrant farm workers and foreign religious minorities. The movement for hope and new life that Jesus came to inaugurate was attacked by a paranoid and narcissistic ruler who was willing to kill innocent children in a desperate attempt to cling to power. The first Christmas was not merry and bright, but a gloomy sight.
It would be a rejection of that story in our current season to turn away from the pain and suffering that we have witnessed throughout 2020. More than 300,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, a disease that has spread through the cracks of our society. revealing inequalities that were already rampant. One in 1,000 African-Americans has died from the virus, and the poor are three times more likely than their higher-income neighbors to contract the disease. Nine months after the first economic impact of the pandemic, the US economy still has 10 million fewer jobs than in February. These lost jobs are almost all low-income service jobs, leaving the unemployed more vulnerable as the wealthiest among us continue to see their earnings skyrocket.
When Americans who could not deny these realities took to the streets last summer after the public lynching of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the world witnessed a historic uprising for racial justice. Like the movement that was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, the hope of this movement for racial justice was rooted in public mourning. “A voice is heard in Ramah,” the Scriptures record, “refusing to be comforted.” The public cry of mourning was the original Christmas greeting, and it has been the honest response of tens of millions of Americans to 2020. As WEB DuBois wrote more than a century ago, “Through all the pain of Pain Songs you breathe a hope – a faith in the highest justice of things. “
But like King Herod before them, President Trump and his facilitators in the US Congress have not only refused to acknowledge a movement rooted in mourning; they have tried to eradicate it. Trump has signed executive orders to try to prevent federal agencies from addressing systemic racism, deployed federal security forces to criminalize protesters and immigrants, pursued record-breaking federal executions in the modern era, threatened the norms of democracy by denying the will of American voters and facilitated unnecessary deaths by undermining public health officials. Mitch McConnell has agreed to all of this, refusing to accept a Covid relief bill for months as millions of Americans faced hunger and eviction. Rather than mourn our unprecedented loss this year, Trump and his enablers have insisted on a triumphalism centered on their ever-narrowing shelf of imaginary victories. His “Merry Christmas” is yelled like the “Bah! Faker!” of Scrooge to drown the suffering that his actions have compounded.
At a time like this, I can only wish America a “Mourning Christmas.” If we are wise, we will not meet people outside our home to sing Joy to the World. Instead, we will light a candle at home for loved ones who are no longer with us this year. We will remember our neighbors and friends who have experienced great loss, many of whom are still risking their lives as essential workers. We will cry out with those who, like the child Jesus, have nowhere to lay their heads. If we are faithful to the story of the one whose light “shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it”, we will cry until our tears flow together in a river of justice that runs like rushing waters and an incessant current. And in that stream of justice, love and mercy, we will commit ourselves to working together for a better world in 2021 and a Christmas in which we can truly sing of peace on Earth and goodwill towards all people.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.