My Turn: A holiday blessing and the path of justice

For the Monitor
Published: 12/26/2020 6:01:12 AM
Modified: 12/26/2020 6:01:02 AM

The preparation weeks leading up to Hanukkah and Christmas give me a feeling of dissonance.

Primarily, we’re inundated with holiday TV crime and comedy specials, Christmas tree lightings, record-breaking sales, shopping obligations, and Santa, whereas in the background dwell the faith stories and meanings of the Hanukkah Festival of Lights and the Christmas Nativity.

This dissonance drives me to cynicism and a bit of depression. I’m not concerned with the old chestnut, “Put Christ back in Christmas!” I’m concerned with the sparse evidence of commitment to the vision of “Peace (with justice) and goodwill among all people.”

Observing this dissonance does not discredit the seasonal spirit of transforming the Scrooges among us and encouraging people to give to those in need. However, Hanukkah and Christmas are birthed out of conflicts of systemic and government oppression.

The Festival of Lights remembers the Syrian occupation and the Jewish rebellion that successfully drove the Syrians out of Jerusalem, cleansed the Second Temple, rebuilt the altar, and lit the menorah. The story of the birth of Jesus emerges from the Roman occupation. The Emperor Augustus decreed that all must return to their home towns to be registered. As a result of so many returning the Bethlehem, commerce thrived for the well-to-do, but travelers forced to come to Bethlehem struggled. Jesus was born into this world of injustice, suffering, and a great divide between the wealthy and the poor.

So, it seems, the holiday season is more than homecomings, feasts, and present exchanges. For the religious, it is more than pageants, carols, and lights. It is a political time. Political reform was a theme in Dickens’s Christmas Carol. It exposes economic injustice, powerless employees, and the suffering of the poor. Hanukkah and Christmas are a time to call for freedom and justice for all, to resist the domination of economic powers, and to extend hospitality to refugees, asylum seekers, and the impoverished. It is a time to motivate all people to shake free from systemic injustice in our country and around the world.

This injustice includes the United States’ relationship with the State of Israel. Congress just voted $3.3 billion of U.S. taxpayer money for security assistance to Israel in 2021. Passed in both Houses by large margins, this works out to over $7,000 per minute. This aid helps to make possible the Israeli military’s enforcement of its will in the occupied Palestinian territory that includes Bethlehem and the disputed Israeli annexed Jerusalem.

Palestinians are refugees in their own land. The Israeli military severely limits their right to movement, economic freedom, civil law, and dignity. With its military aid to Israel, the United States is complicit in this unjust military, economic, and political domination of Palestinians.

George Washington warned against such passionate attachments to foreign nations. “The Nation, which indulges toward another… habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its … affection, which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.” Our nation has strayed from its duty to freedom and justice for all people.

These reminders of the historical and the contemporary political settings of Christmas and Hanukkah relieve me of some of the dissonance that has driven my cynicism and depression. It occurs to me that an awareness of these historical and political settings underlying religious and secular holiday traditions may stir feelings that demand justice for all, including those without shelter, food, and equality under the law.

It’s in this spirit that we light our advent candles in our home and that we put the menorah in the window with its Hanukkah candles. There are also electric window candles and the indoor and outdoor Christmas tree lights. Surrounded by these lights, I feel an assurance to “lighten up” (pun intended). Go easy on myself and others. Before the holiday glitter fades, let it fall on the just and the unjust with a blessing showing a way through the pain, oppression, and mistrust to a more just society, government, and world.

A belated Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, and Happy New Year.

(John Buttrick lives in Concord and can be reached at johndbuttrick@gmail.com,)


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