As we careen toward ever more terrifying surges in the Covid pandemic, with experts predictingby Christmas time, I find myself reacting to the vast majority of modern Christmas songs, stories, movies, and cultural norms with increasing distaste. In these scary, painful weeks leading up to Christmas, my culture has very little to offer other than distraction and superficial jollity. Ho ho ho, Santa Claus is comin’ to town.
Distraction does help, a little. It’s addictive, of course. We turn more and more to social media, with itsfrom each “like” and “love” reaction, each funny cat video, each smug political joke, to keep us from confronting the terror and trauma of our current reality. It’s a legitimate coping mechanism, a crutch that can be useful in many ways.
But do we need more than an addictive crutch of dopamine and distraction? Do we need more than “Santa baby, I want a yacht” and sexist lamps made from? Do we need more than watching criminals get third degree burns and the whiny, entitled “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart”…? Honestly, we do. We really, really do. Lighthearted, superficial fun has its place… but we also need much, much more.
This week is the first week of Advent, the week of Hope. In my Methodist tradition, Advent is not actually about the coming of the baby Jesus, but rather about the coming of the Reign of Divine Love and JustPeace. The word “advent” means arrival, or coming, especially of something or someone important. Most Christian communities do celebrate the arrival of the Reign of JustPeace as connected with the birth of Jesus. The symbols and mythological truths are similar and related: though times are dark and full of despair, fear not, for Divine Love is with us and will continue to work through all Creation for the liberation and healing of all Earth.
But make no mistake – this story of Hope, whether it is the hope symbolized by the birth of a Jewish baby under violent and oppressive Roman occupation, or the hope of joining to co-create a “now and not yet” reign of peace and justice, is not a Hope that is meek and mild. This is not a story of a virginal teenager who submissively and magically births a bizarrely silent baby in the shed out back. This is not a story of hoping in a cheery afterlife in order to pacify the sheep-like masses and prevent them from complaining about their deprivation and exploitation. Not distraction and dope.
No. We humans need more than that. We really, really do. We always have. We need Gritty Advent Hope.
Gritty Advent Hope is found in stories (from any source or culture), of people, animals, or plants who overcame oppression and claimed liberation, who overcame the forces of death and claimed the power of life, who overcame isolation and claimed solidarity, who overcame despair and clung on, fought on, raged on, shouted and sang and danced on and on and on, tearing off our chains, ripping away the facades that politicians and billionaires and corporations and religious leaders use to try to blind us to their violent enslavement of our time, our bodies, and yes, our very lives.
Look around: just as the Romans did to the Jews, oligarchy has again decided we are all expendable slaves. Government policies do not match scientific recommendations for safety. Shareholders are cheerfully sacrificing workers, health care personnel, and our nation’s precious and beloved elders on their altars of heartless greed.
“As time goes by, you’d think that local governments would get better at setting restrictions fine-tuned to protect people’s safety, not worse. But beneath this contradiction lies a fundamental conflict that state and local leaders have been forced to navigate for the better part of a year. Amid the pandemic, the people they govern would generally be better served if they got to stay home, stay safe, and not worry about their bills. To govern, though, leaders also need to placate the other centers of power in American communities: local business associations, real-estate developers, and industry interest groups. These groups, whose businesses have cratered, have been vocal about their desire to see people go back to their jobs and pay their rent on time and in full. Just as these kinds of groups have developed an outsize influence on how policies are made on a national level, they also have significant sway in state and local politics.”
In the face of this level of oppression, death, and despair, we need, we NEED Gritty Advent Hope. I don’t have to quote the numbers to you; you know them all too well – we are dying by the hundreds of thousands; we are facing record levels of hunger, eviction, and lifelong disability from Covid, while billionaires areof dollars in direct profit from our suffering. Most of our death and suffering is entirely unnecessary: our very own tax dollars, handed to billionaires by the politicians (in both parties!) they own, rather than given back to us so that we could all stay safely home.
Sometimes the dystopia is so maddening that we don’t know where to turn for comfort, for Hope. In times like these, I find the Goddess particularly helpful. She is symbolized beautifully in the Christian tradition by Mary, in her gloriously gritty Magnificat, when she boldly announces her plan to raise her baby to lead a revolution and overthrow the violent overlords:
“We will show strength with our arms;
we will scatter the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
We will bring down the powerful from their thrones,
and lift up the lowly;
We will fill the hungry with good things,
and send the rich away empty.”
(Luke 1:51-53, NRSV, revised to make it more obvious what she is saying)
That’s some gritty hope, right there. That’s a Christmas carol for ya. Happy Advent,, enjoy the strikes.
Gritty Advent Hope looks at all the families who are grieving the loss of loved ones, who are hungry or impoverished this Christmas, who are wild with fear for family members in the ICU, who are staggering with exhaustion as they try to make it through one more grueling day, and she says: “I am with you. You are not alone. We are together. I hold you. I hold on tight, and I will not let go, and I will never let you go. I know your fear, I know your pain, I know your anguish. I am right there in it with you, all the way in it with you. Hold on. Light is coming. Life is coming. Justice is coming. If we can just hold on to each other. We will birth something sacred and powerful and glorious. Hold on to each other. Together, there is comfort and healing. Together, we will birth a radiant new dawn.”
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.