1 A.M. on Christmas morning, burning the Advent wreath down all night, and listening to Advent/Christmas music. It has always been the most peaceful night of the year.
Not His, but ours.
It’s somewhat different this year. Something Cardinal Dolan said last Sunday at Mass: Here in New York as we approach Christmas, it feels more like we are moving toward Good Friday. It’s been a terrible week here, feeling much as it did in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Officers Liu and Ramos have yet to be buried, and yet there is a peace, a stillness tonight that has not existed since the horrific events of last Saturday. The promise of what this night is all about has taken away some of death’s sting.
It has been a year of renewed fears for us as a people. A newer, more virulent strain of radical Islam has targeted our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, and threatens us worldwide. Racial tensions have been stoked by malignant men, and have culminated in the assassinations of police officers, with promises of more to come. In the midst of it all comes this gentle night, this one day where we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. So for one night, one day, we take refuge and respite from the gathering storm.
We pray for peace, gentle peace, to take root once more in our midst. We ask God to give us peace, and ask what we must do.
At every turn in the scriptures the answer has always been the same.
We must do justice.
We must love mercy.
We must walk humbly with our God.
It’s not necessarily that we deserve the ill that befalls us as a people when we do not do what God requires. It’s rather that we weaken ourselves as a people when we ignore the predation on the weakest among us, a predation that has grown steadily for almost half a century. And then the tiger eats us. All of scripture tells us that God identifies with the poor and the least among us, which is why He chose to be born in a stable.
In this nation we are closing in on sixty million babies slaughtered (and to think that Herod is considered a villain for far less). In the black communities up in arms, they have visited more destruction upon themselves than any other demographic. There are approximately 42 million blacks in America today, and approximately 20 million who have never lived to see the light of day. That’s 1/3 of what ought to be the current population of blacks, or, one dead baby for every two living blacks.
Of course there is anger, there is rage. Add to that 73% of black children who have no father in their life. It’s so vast that it becomes one giant haze of rage. The death of dreams, of hope, of one’s issue. And it’s not much better in other quarters.
Now add to the mix that it has become acceptable to debate the ethics of infanticide under the euphemism of post-birth abortion.
Do we even recognize ourselves anymore?
Yet we pray for peace and scorn those with the poor taste to set these injustices ever before our eyes.
There is rage tonight in the black community. To be clear, it would be patronizing to portray this community as the victims of Planned Parenthood, of forces beyond their control. They certainly are targeted, but they (and we) have it within to withstand evil (1 Corinthians 10:13). We have the law of God written in our hearts, as Paul said.
Perhaps it is time to ask if over this past half-century we have placed more emphasis on being a prosperous people than a just people. We as a people are the most generous on the planet, yes. But generosity isn’t the sum total of justice. Defending the defenseless takes us a great deal further. Generosity isn’t enough. It begins with ending the slaughter of the innocents, with working to untangle this tangled ball, and doing it in a way that is respectful, and not patronizing or imperious.
It begins with praying for the only two things I’ve learned to ask of God: Courage and Wisdom
So, perhaps as this terrible year draws to a close, we might meditate on Isaiah 58 as we pray for God to bless us with that peace and security so absent for so many among us:
Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Proclaim to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.a
They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the judgment of their God;
They ask of me just judgments,
they desire to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, but you take no note?”
See, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.b
See, you fast only to quarrel and fight
and to strike with a wicked fist!
Do not fast as you do today
to make your voice heard on high!
Is this the manner of fasting I would choose,
a day to afflict oneself?
To bow one’s head like a reed,
and lie upon sackcloth and ashes?
Is this what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?c
AUTHENTIC FASTING THAT LEADS TO BLESSING*
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke?d
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own flesh?e
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: “Here I am!”
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the accusing finger, and malicious speech;f
If you lavish your food on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then your light shall rise in the darkness,
and your gloom shall become like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always
and satisfy your thirst in parched places,
will give strength to your bones
And you shall be like a watered garden,
like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.g
Your people shall rebuild the ancient ruins;
the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
“Restorer of ruined dwellings.”h
AUTHENTIC SABBATH OBSERVANCE THAT LEADS TO BLESSING*
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from following your own pursuits on my holy day;
If you call the sabbath a delight,
the LORD’s holy day glorious;
If you glorify it by not following your ways,
seeking your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs—
Then you shall delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob, your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
A Blessed, a Peaceful, and a Merry Christmas.