The Child is born, the angels have sung, the Wise Men have come and gone; the dinner has been cooked and eaten, the children’s toys have been played with and discarded (except for the iPhones). Because today is the day after the Christmas holiday, the gifts nobody wanted have not yet been returned to the stores, which might explain the low church attendance. So far, the malls have not decided to open on Christmas Day, although given the precedent set at Thanksgiving, they likely will be in the future.
I’m not going to explain how these birth stories never actually happened, and that they are really politically subversive tales that illustrate how the current rulers are not the lords of the universe, and how – if we live as Jesus taught – then there is a chance that distributive justice-compassion can indeed hold sway among human societies. Tea parties and the right wing notwithstanding. No, instead I’m going to talk about what’s next, now that Christmas is over for everyone except the die-hard Christian traditionalists, who insist on continuing the celebrations for another 11 days.
To make free with Matthew’s version of Jesus’ birth, once the astrologer’s had left their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, Mary and Joseph may well have been looking forward to a few days of peace and quiet with their newborn. Or, as some interpretations of the timing of all this has it, if the astrologers (or three kings, if you will) had actually not shown up until two years after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph would likely have been happy to take all that gold and precious plant material to the nearest market to trade for what they really needed.
But no, the story says, no sooner had the astrologers left than Joseph has yet another dream where an angel tells him to “Get ready, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I give you instructions. See, Herod is determined to hunt the child down and destroy him.”
Why can’t they just leave us alone? All we want to do is live our lives. But we can’t just live our lives, can we? The two-year old has to learn to share the gold with his sister. Otherwise, you have war in your household from morning ‘til night. And you can’t burn the frankincense when your cousin Elizabeth comes to visit, because her son John is allergic. To make matters worse, the myrrh creeps you out. It’s really for embalming dead bodies. What were they trying to tell you when they gave you that?
Carl Jung – the student of Freud who took psychology into a very different direction – suggests that the story of the Divine Child who is threatened with destruction by evil powers is an archetype. It symbolizes the unwillingness of the Super-Ego to allow the Ego to develop in new and creative ways. According to Jeremy Taylor, expert in Jungian dream interpretations, “from the point of view of the established social order on the one hand, and the dominant pattern of waking ego consciousness on the other, the promise of the Divine Child to make everything new again is inevitably perceived as a death threat” to the powers that be. Jeremy Taylor, The Living Labyrinth (Paulist Press, 1998), p. 156.
The national political scene in the past year certainly answered that description. The Republicans in both houses of Congress made it clear that they would not support anything the Democrats proposed, even when the Democrats proposed doing what the Republicans originally wanted. It’s easy to tar Republicans with Herod’s brush. What is not so easy to accept is the Democrats’ role in the same scenario. Very few incumbents running as Democrats in the mid-term elections had the courage to own their own records, let alone embrace the progressive agenda. And speaking of “progressive,” why is it now considered to be politically uncool to call oneself a liberal?
The entire system is a collaboration with Herod, including the Obama Administration. There is no excuse for gutting the Bill of Rights in the name of “national security.” There is no excuse for not holding the Bush Administration accountable – to a person – for war crimes. There is no excuse for continuing those war crimes while claiming that the rules of war have changed. There is no excuse for hiding the failure of leadership behind the screen of “bipartisan compromise.”
There is always a Herod who is trying to stifle dissent. And it’s not just in the realm of national politics or corporate policy governance. It happens right in our own communities. How often have we said to ourselves, “we can’t do that, it costs too much”; or “we’ve always done it this way, why change?”; or “if we let them do that, everyone will want to do it”; or “we’ve never done that before. How do we know it’s a good thing?”; and “let’s find out what other organizations have done about this first”?
What about the Child, and the Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh with which the Child has been gifted?
Maybe you have to have been taught as a child that there is a God, who watches out for us, who is just and to whom the world belongs. Then – as the apostle Paul says – when we become adults we put away childish ways of looking at life. While at first we see dimly like a smoky mirror, later things will become clear. Part of a maturing spirituality includes transferring that confidence and trust in a God outside of ourselves to the God within. But if there is nothing upon which to rely except ourselves, how do we ever make any kind of progress at all, you may ask? Somehow as our spiritual side matures, we begin to experience that the very nature of the Planet and the Universe we inhabit supports us when our cause is in alignment with the balance of life.
So what’s next, now that Christmas is over for everyone except the die-hard Christian traditionalists, who insist on continuing the celebrations for another 11 days? These days at the end of the year offer plenty of chances to turn our lives around. The Solstice this year featured a Full Moon and an Eclipse – symbols of the power of dreams and the wisdom of the natural world. This week even Unitarian Universalists celebrated the birth of Jesus, who some of us are convinced came to show us how to turn away from death and fear and live with confidence and joy. Next week we mark the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 – another opportunity to change our ways – that’s another way to say “repent,” by the way: Repent of our unwillingness to hear creative, innovative ideas about how to use the precious gifts we have to make a real difference in the part of the country we inhabit.
After Herod’s death, a messenger of the lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. “Get ready, take the child and his mother and return to the land of Israel; those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”