As Christmas approaches, it is common to focus our attention increasingly on children. That celebration is, after all, about the birth of a baby. The world over, crèches spring up, and little ones begin to show excitement, waiting for that special day. In many cultures, holiday decorations are confined to nativity scenes, and the focus of the celebration is on spending time with family and friends honoring the birth of Jesus. Traditional Quaker practice has been to eschew the observation of holidays altogether, noting that every day is a holy one.
One of the wonderful aspects of observing Christmas is its celebration of innocence: the innocence of a newborn baby come into the world to transform it; the innocence of his parents, trusting that some good place would be found for the birth of their babe; the innocence of shepherds, following the guidance of angels leading them to the stable. Perhaps the power of Christmas is its ability to disarm us, to open us to the possibilities of peace on Earth and goodwill among all people.
In this issue, Tina Coffin remembers celebrating Christmas at age nine in Holland in 1944, during the Nazi occupation. She contrasts the hunger, fear, and meager supplies her family endured with the warmth of the story-telling and laughter that blessed them as they shared the light of one small lamp on cold nights. Her memories go to the heart of the season—the transformation that love can provide of even the most dire circumstances.
Here in 21st century United States, overrun as we are with crass commercialism at Christmas—whole industries depending upon our materialism in relation to this holiday—we have our own contemporary war images to contemplate. Two years ago at an annual holiday party I attend, by glowing candle- and firelight, I offered what sympathy and comfort I could to a former neighbor whose son—raised in a peace-demonstrating family—had just died in Iraq, his life ransom for the "bargain" of paying off his student loans. The following summer I found his boots at the Eyes Wide Open exhibit and wept again, remembering him growing from small child to young man.
The little ones I think of now are those in Iraq, whose lives have been so incredibly shattered by the violence that rages all around them. And the children left behind by our enlisted soldiers, particularly the mothers who’ve had to ship out. How hard it must be for those children not to know if they will ever see their parent again.
It was into such a world, one broken and shattered, that Jesus came, innocent yet ready to grow into the bearer of the good news of God’s love and the hope of redemption. When we are tempted to despair by this world in which we live, then is the time for us to remember the transformation that love can provide—even in the most dire circumstances.