The revolutionary hope of Christmas

The following is a cross-post written by the Rev. Tim Yeager, Priest-in-Charge at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Chicago and a regional organizer for the National Organization of Legal Service Workers, in People's World about the implications of Christmas on worker and economic justice:

Christmas time can be so depressing. It brings out some of the worst features of capitalism and rubs them in our faces. You can't escape, whatever your philosophical or religious belief.


Advertisements spur on feelings of guilt if you don't buy enough of the right kinds of consumer products for people you love. Creative financing is offered so that lenders can make even more profit. And it is an environmental disaster ... more plastic, cardboard and packaging is produced, carted about, and dumped into landfills, vacant lots, and incinerators at Christmas time than at any other time of the year.


And yet ... Nearly smothered beneath piles of gift catalogs and sale circulars, nearly drowned in a sea of synthesized elevator-music Christmas carols, in a locked theological vault guarded down through the centuries by legions of preachers, priests and pontiffs, there burns a persistent secret flame. It is the flame of a revolutionary hope - hope for a better world, a more just society, where the social order is turned upside down so that the poor are fed and the rich are relieved of their ill-gotten gains. And it is something that working people of any culture, any religious or philosophical background can relate to.


What does Christmas have to do with the class struggle? In a word - everything. The story goes like this:


Once upon a time, in a land far away on the edge of a great empire, there was a people with an ancient culture, a storied past, and a great literature, who had been conquered by a technologically advanced imperial power. They were occupied by foreign soldiers and ruled by corrupt local despots who collaborated with the foreign oppressors. There were periodic revolts of local peasants and slaves that were put down mercilessly.


In the midst of all that, a young unmarried girl becomes pregnant out of wedlock. You might think she would regret this development, but on the contrary, she finds in the anticipated birth of a child a reason to rejoice and to hope for a better world. In her joy and determination, she sings an ancient song of liberation:


My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me -- He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:46-53)


She and her fiancee are then forced to make a difficult journey while she is in the last weeks of her pregnancy, ostensibly to comply with the demands of their imperial rulers to register for a census. They are denied lodging in local inns. Homeless, the young family takes shelter in a stable, where the mother goes into labor and gives birth to a baby boy among barnyard animals.


Hardly an auspicious beginning for a child in whom his mother had placed such hope. And then things get worse. The local ruler, a collaborator who is kept in power through an occupation army, decides on an act of terror. Convinced that a revolt is brewing in the village where the young couple has just had their baby, he sends in death squads to kill all the male children under a certain age.


Fortunately, the young family is tipped off and they flee into a neighboring country. There they wait until they receive news of the death of their corrupt local despot, and thereafter return to raise their son in their hometown. When he grows up, the boy becomes a carpenter. As if to fulfill the revolutionary hope expressed in his mother's song, he goes on to organize a movement for social and economic change. It is composed of a coalition of fishermen, reformed prostitutes, the unemployed and low-level public servants, with a cross-section of men and women, and people of different ethnic backgrounds.


Read the rest of the reflection at People's World.