This is the time of year when favorite holiday traditions come rushing back into our lives. We dust off decorations, both hand-made and handed-down. And many of our holiday memories come in the form of stories which inform our understanding of the holiday season and help us to interpret ordinary days on a calendar as sacred days of celebration.
Stories turn the last few months of the year into “a season” for sharing, caring, love and giving thanks. And for many (but not all) Americans, the stories that inform the Christmas season are often taken from the Bible.
The Bible is a book of stories about people taking long trips, making the journey from this place to that place. Often these journeys are from the place that defines who they used to be, as the stories’ characters travel toward the place that signifies who they are becoming. One of my favorite stories is from the book of Genesis about Joseph and his brothers. This story is full of journey, back and forth, over and again. And Joseph transforms. He was one way when he was shipped off, and was another person altogether when his brothers meet him again.
There is of course the story of the Exodus. An entire group of people moving through harsh conditions, fleeing oppression, looking forward to something that only exists in their imagination. No more slavery, no more suffering, no more tyrannical abuse of their loved ones. When you’re leaving that land behind, the risk of not surviving the journey and the promise of the next land is worth it.
A protective warning
The Bible is just full of these stories. And this time of year one of the stories that can easily be lost is the story of a young couple traveling with their newborn to flee the threat of death. The story of Mary and Joseph has been morphed over the years into a cute story with farm animals, and three wise men bringing peculiar (to us) birthday gifts to the newborn baby. The original story however, is about young parents, welcoming their son into a dangerous, perilous world. There is a ruler, Herod, who, out of fear of losing his power, orders that all who threaten his power be murdered. One night, in a dream Joseph hears a voice telling him to get out of town. Go somewhere safer. Take care of your family, and go somewhere else that increases the odds of your child’s survival. It’s a powerful story about escape.
A present day journey
Last month, we all heard stories of a present day dangerous journey. A group from San Pedro Sula, Honduras were beginning their travels from their hometown, through Mexico with their eyes set on the United States. As I read about their journey, the conditions they were leaving behind and the expectations they have I can’t help but think about the Exodus. I can’t help but think about Mary and Joseph. I picture them getting up in the middle of the night, gently waking up the baby, and starting on their journey. Then I think about those in the caravan. What kind of sleep are they getting to refresh their bodies? How are the children? I think about how their shoes are holding up. And I wonder… How will their story end?
What happens when you leave one Herod, only to discover another one?
What happens when you are seeking Lady Liberty only to be met by Captain America-First?
When I think about those travelling from Honduras, I’m reminded of another major Biblical theme, “Welcome the stranger.” “Look after the orphans and widows.” Even Jesus, who survived the trip with his parents, grew up to teach us about how we should treat “the least of these.” Sometimes it feels like our country wants to convince everyone that we were “founded on the Bible” without regard to the stories within the Bible.
Listen, it doesn’t take much biblical literacy to see how the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob would want people of incredible wealth and fortune to treat people running for their lives. The Dr. Rev. William Barber II, a Protestant minister and political leader, says we have leaders in our country who “are saying so much about what God says so little, and so little about what God says so much.” So what can we do?
Sometimes, rules need to change
In this column, I often discuss large, difficult topics. And often, I don’t have concrete solutions for those problems. Now, I can already hear all the usual talking points. “What about the rules?” “We have a process, they should follow it.” Do you know what my wife and I teach our children to think about rules that don’t help people? Rules that don’t serve people? We teach them that sometimes, rules need to change, to expand, to evolve to match the problems they were initially designed to address.
What I’m trying to do in this column though, is to give us images, language, and ultimately more tools to talk to our children about these issues. I think that is the point of parenting too. It’s about the journey, rather than finding all the right answers. We want to equip our children with how to think about the conditions they will face in their world.
And, if we are honest, it’s a crucial investment in our future. I can support and vote for candidates that I think most honestly embody a welcoming posture toward our neighbors, but it is our children who will take us to the next level. Our job is to tell the right stories. Stories that meet fear with hope, and hate with love., that build bridges over barriers and creative solutions to citizenship over fear-based walls of military force.
So, let’s tell those stories this year. May your holidays be filled with love, imagination, hope, and good stories.