As I make my preparations for the holiday season, I find myself taking periodic reality checks. I was struck with reality particularly hard as I sent out Christmas cards and letters and blithely signed “Happy New Year.” Last year I did the same thing never realizing the year that lay ahead of us. Now, at the end of that year, the reality of those greetings is that it means picking up the pieces and attempting to mend our world which is broken. When I read the cards this year, the language of Christmas takes on new meaning — joy, hope, love, goodness and, of course, peace. A broken world where the word “peace” is twisted and battered and in shreds.
The whole world is hurting, but the United States seems to have been hit harder than other countries and we are reeling from the economic disaster the pandemic has brought upon us. And I am reminded of the poem by Shelley entitled “Ozymandius”. Upon seeing the ruin of a mighty statue lying in the desert, the poet hears the words that are written on the wind, “We are the greatest nation. Nothing like us ever was.” But nothing remains and
“Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
And I wonder about the greeting “Happy New Year.”
If you have understandably, after this past year, turned your back on news reports, magazines and newspapers. If you say “No more politics”. Then perhaps you have not heard the analysis of the struggle that lies before us — receiving and distributing the vaccine, healing a broken government where legislative action and judicial decisions are divided to the point that trying to do some good is blocked at every turn. To wish someone a “Happy New Year”, after all 2020 has brought with fires, civil unrest, political division, and hurricanes, not even mentioning the virus, seems to me rather like the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”
In Jesus’ words to his disciples, He says, “Peace, I give to you, my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives…”. I want to grab hold of the word, “peace” and attempt to wring out of it any hope for the new year. And lo and behold, there it is. Do you know the Greek myth about Pandora’s box? Pandora’s curiosity causes her to open the box given her by Zeus. As she does all the horrors of life spill out and move into the world bringing sadness, death and destruction. Struggling to close the box, Pandora hears a soft voice saying, “Wait” and out of the box flies “Hope” to move into the world.
The “peace the world cannot give” is a hard fought peace. It means that each day of the new year we must dedicate ourselves to pick up the pieces and mend our broken world. No more blame games, no more letting someone else do the work. Money and greed, prestige and power will not make 2021 a “Happy New Year”. It is going to take diligence and the recognition of a hard-won peace to rebuild. We have to lay aside political differences and gender and race and think about helping this world and our country be a place where everyone matters, dedicating ourselves to the lost and the struggling and the poor. We are in this struggle as one humanity. Only then can we return to being a beacon for the world through our generosity, our welcome and our allegiance to freedom and democracy.
Howard Thurman, American author, philosopher and social justice activist wrote a Christmas blessing that stirs my heart and helps me re-orient myself in the right direction each time I read it:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart
Let the work of Christmas begin!
Let’s begin it together!