CW: Discussion of the conflict in Israel/Palestine and of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation.
Happy Monday and Merry Christmas, my friends! This is the third year—can you believe it?—that I’ve written a Monday Moment on or near Christmas. Writing to you on December 27, 2021, I offered a short reflection on traditions, both those that promote community and those that hold us back. Then on December 25, 2022, I sent a rare “Sunday Moment” so that I could write to you on Christmas where I waxed philosophically and artistically on “Biblically accurate angels.” Before I wrote this reflection I went back to those Monday Moments to see where we’ve been and what I should do for today.
There is a provocative image (below) which has made its way around the internet and social media. The photo, taken at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem depicts the baby Jesus lying amid rubble. Many of us, me included, often forget that Bethlehem is part of the West Bank, a contested area of Israel/Palestine. Though it is removed from the current fighting in the Gaza Strip, it shares much of the same history and tension with Gaza. Indeed, Bethlehem, often flooded with pilgrims and tourists this time of year, is a relative ghost town with many services and masses cancelled due to fears of violence.
As the ED of LOVEboldly and in my personal work, I have been careful to offer few comments on the situation in Gaza while staying current on what is happening and holding much of it for private prayer and reflection. Removed from the physical fighting of Gaza, my attention has been fixed on issues no less important at the Ohio statehouse. Over the last year we have seen bill after bill be introduced targeting the LGBTQIA+ community and centering that hate all too frequently on children. The recently passed Ohio House Bill 68 restricts transgender girls and young women from participating in interscholastic sports (including in higher education) and prohibits gender-affirming health care for people under the age of 18. If HB68 wasn’t already heinous enough, a last-minute addition was added so that the bill goes into effect more rapidly than originally planned and, though the bill contains a grandmother clause for children currently receiving gender-affirming care, that clause only permits the child’s current plan of treatment to continue. Add to that terror, the dramatic rise in anti-LGBTQIA+ hate groups in Ohio (link to an important and compelling article in The Buckeye Flame which comes with a lot of content warnings, please take time to read it, but be kind to yourself).
Beyond the physical rubble of Gaza and the actions and violence fueling the conflict; there is other physical, spiritual, and emotional rubble this Christmas. The mother of a transgender child here in Ohio reflected on how governments both in Jesus’ time and now have targeted the young and vulnerable and their families. Indeed, Jesus and his family became refugees fleeing the violence perpetrated by Herod who was trying to find and murder the supposed king who had been born. Now an act of the Ohio General Assembly may force parents and their children to flee to other states to find the health care they need.
Yet in the midst of all this fear, all this division, all of these cries for justice, we have hope. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined…For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders, and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2,6). While traditional Christianity teaches us that Jesus became human to eventually suffer and die for our sins, Jesus came to do far more than that. In fact, Jesus came to give us hope, hope that we could live more fully human lives and hope that despite all of the hate and trauma we suffer, the eventual reward is liberation from suffering and oppression. As Dr. King famously said, though the moral arc of the universe is long, it nevertheless bends towards justice. We bend that arc and Jesus is right there with us.
Enjoy your Christmas traditions and your church communities, but if you want to find our great king and God look not in churches, but look in the rubble, look among the poor, look in families worrying about their transgender children. Don’t look for Jesus among the glitter of human edifices but look for Jesus in LGBTQIA+ youth who still at the end of 2023 experience homelessness at far higher rates than there cis-het peers. Look for Jesus among the disinherited and the dispossessed. Look for Jesus where the church and the world tells you NOT to look for Jesus. And particularly this Christmas, look for Jesus where he was and as he was first found by the shepherds: a poor, brown-skinned Palestinian Jew.
Where is Jesus for you? How will you find Jesus today and in the year to come?
Let us pray: “God takes on fleshand joins life in the struggle
–this is what radical solidarity feels like.
Lives and souls and bodies entangled.Risks and possibilities shared.
We’re in this together.
The mess, the beauty, the work.
Don’t be afraid to feel hopeful.
God’s promises are kept.God won’t opt-out or turn away.
God won’t give up when things get tough.
God won’t defend power, or privilege, or institutions, or tradition at the expense of freedom, or love, or liberation, or your worth.
God’s with-ness is birthed at the margins.
God knows what’s at stake.
Let all who are weary, rejoice!
All of evil’s deceptions will be revealed and fear of unjust powers will cease.
The Liberating One now dwells among us, calling upon hearts from all walks of life to open. to take courage. to soften. to release.
Behold, the Sacred enfleshed reveals the way of Love.”
Blessings for your Christmas Day and your week! I will be away this week and not answering email or phone, but feel free to drop thoughts, ideas, and anything you need in my inbox. I’ll get back to you starting on January 2, 2024!