Oh, yes, we need a little Christmas!

Oh, yes, we need a little Christmas!

Sparkling tree - Casa Italia Chicago

I am obviously of an age where Santa does not pay much attention to my wish lists.  He completely ignored my simple request for only three gifts last year — an end to the pandemic, an infusion of enlightened self-interest among the population at-large, and a peaceful transfer of power.  Last year at this time, we thought that 300,000 Americans dead from Covid-19 was horrific — well, the pandemic is still with us and because too many people still will not get vaccinated or wear masks properly, we now have 810,000 American deaths and the infection rates are skyrocketing with the new omicron variant at large in the land.  Meanwhile, we almost lost our Democracy on January 6, 2021, and the people responsible for the coup attempt remain at-large, just like the virus, infecting brains and souls with a virulent disorder.

The real Christmas story is not one of beautiful lights and presents and songs.  Rather, in Luke’s Gospel, we read of a government mandate for a census, a couple’s journey to obey the order with the woman pregnant, bedding down and giving birth in a barn to her son.  Across two millennia tradition has glorified the angels that appeared to the nearby shepherds and we sing beautiful songs like Gloria in Excelsis Deo, but the fact remains that the essential story was not one of comfort but real human challenge.

2021 has been a hard slog of a year.  This time last year, we certainly had reason to hope that by now we’d be well on the road to recovery from the physical and spiritual diseases of these times.  But what 2021 has taught us, if anything, is that recovery is a long and painful process, and that slackening our efforts to restore our nation to health and effective self-governance is going to take years.  We look at where we are today and wonder if we have the strength and willpower to get the recovery moving faster, quicker, better.

Oh, yes, we need a little Christmas!

We take a break this week to reflect, to rest, to pray, to enjoy family and friends (safely), to exchange gifts, raise a cup of eggnog and take stock of the year that is slinking off with little fanfare.

I know it’s a bit late to appeal to Santa again (and, frankly, I’m still thinking that he needs coal in his stocking over ignoring my list from last year…), but we can always make our own gifts and it’s never too late to share them with others.  So, my list this year suggests the gifts we can still give to each other, today and in all of the days ahead:

1.  Keep Yourself and Everyone Around You Healthy:  Get vaccinated and boosted!

Everyone is a potential carrier of Covid-19 and its variants.  Every breath you exhale has the potential to infect everyone else in the room you inhabit at any given moment.  The claim that vaccination is somehow a matter of personal choice is absurd — it’s not about you, it’s about the community in which you live and work and your moral obligation to do what you can to keep other people safe.  I will never understand how or why some politicians made vaccines a political issue, or why people indulge their obvious lies about public health.  Do not fall into that ignorant, selfish camp!  Take every measure possible to be sure that everyone you encounter can be safe in your presence — and then do what you can to get every person in your orbit to do exactly the same.  We can and will beat the coronavirus IF we take collective responsibility to eradicate the disease, which is only possible through widespread vaccination.

2.  Live the principles of social justice every day.

The principles of social justice are very simple and straightforward, and shared in one expression or another among most major religions:  protect and honor the dignity of every human life, exercise your social and political responsibilities to build the common good for families and communities, respect the rights of workers, stand in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable of this earth, protect God’s creation.  Too often, however, people claim to be exemplars of their religious beliefs while trashing social justice ideals in their actions.  You cannot be “pro-life” if you fail to confront racial and ethnic hatred in our communities, if you refuse vaccines that save lives, if you stockpile firearms in your home on the premise that guns are the only way to keep domestic peace.  Christianity loses all meaning if those who profess to be Christian cooperate in sustaining a political system that denies basic life benefits to children and impoverished families, that enriches those whose wealth is staggering while blaming the poor for their own circumstances.  Working for justice is not about what we get out of the system, but rather, how the system must be constructed to lift up “the least, the lost, the left out among us.”

3.  Invest your time, your brain, your voice in making Democracy healthy once more.

The threats to American Democracy are clear and all around us.  Voting rights have already been compromised for too many citizens, especially those who are African American in some states.  A movement to harass, intimidate and undermine the election officials responsible for certifying the results of the 2020 presidential campaign is well underway, and the forces that fomented the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol are alive and well and planning their next move all the time.  We cannot look away.  We are tempted to cocoon in our living rooms, living on a steady intellectual diet of Netflix and football, hoping that someone else will fix it all.   Guess what?  A country founded on the concept of “We, the People” means that WE need to get up off our couches, pay attention to what’s happening, take responsibility to read, learn and then take action to defend and preserve our political rights and way of life.  The situation is serious, and if we ignore the warning signs, the day will come when we will wake up in a very different country, one that is more repressive of civil and human rights than anything we have ever known.

Ok, Santa, those are somewhat somber thoughts for this Christmas — if you had only delivered last year’s presents, this reflection would have been much jollier.  There’s still time!  Hope in a better future remains as the best gift of all. Bring it!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!