For me, what most significantly marks Christmas here is the choir music. Instead of singing about angels, Santa, and even the traditional Nativity scene, most of our Christmas carols talk about Christmas as a state of being, one marked by conscience, solidarity, and action. During the Christmas season I sang over and over again about how Christmas should be present the whole year around in the struggle for social justice and the way we relate to one another.
For example, in “Navidad sin estruendo” or “Christmas without Thunder,” the chorus says:
“To Bethlehem we come and go by pathways of joy, and God is born in each one who devotes themselves to others. To Bethlehem we come and go by pathways of justice, and in Bethlehem people are born when they learn to struggle.”
The word luchar, which I’ve translated here as “struggle,” is the principle word used in Spanish to describe that state of working towards and hungering for social justice. To understand the miracle of Christmas as the birthing of luchadores/as, or “strugglers for social justice,” is striking because we usually associate images of gentleness and passivity with the Christmas story. Struggle, however, has little to do with sitting and waiting patiently. How much more meaningful is the Nativity scene when we reflect on the difficult journey that brought Mary and Joseph to the stable, and when we remember the struggle that Jesus chose in his adult ministry? As a poor, unwed-but-pregnant couple, Mary and Joseph were labeled as sinners by their society, but instead of listening to the criticism, they chose to glorify God by following his plan for them. And as a prophet speaking truth-to-power, Jesus faced both political and personal adversity, glorifying God with his peaceful but revolutionary stance.
The second and third verses of this carol talk about the people awaiting a rich, submissive, kingly figure as their Christ, and how instead, they got a poor but powerful-with-words baby who denounces oppression and proclaims liberation in the name of God. Of course, I, too, love the image of Jesus as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. But that image moves me more when I, like Mary, ponder in my heart the future of the baby and how I can radicalize those around me in the name of Love and Justice (aka God).
The song goes on to say in its final verse:
“Christmas is a pathway that doesn’t produce a great thunder, because God resounds within those who walk in brotherhood. Christmas is the miracle of going door-to-door and finding out if our brother needs our bread.”
And so it isn’t about changing the world alone, miraculously birthing a divine but human savior, or gift-giving. It’s about an awareness of and willingness to struggle with those around us for God’s abundant life.
Click here to hear the choir singing another Christmas carol.