As 2017 closes out, as cold as it was on the way in, it’s hard to find words to describe just what is going on around us. Divisive, chaotic, and juvenile come to mind quickly. So does bizarre.
But what defined this year more than anything else was conflict. Despite a decade long war in Syria and some other regional battles, the world is actually more at peace than it has been for many centuries. Yet it doesn’t seem like it.
I have become convinced that politics in America today is little more than the gap between reality and our ideals.
There are two problems with this. The first is that we all have different ideals about how a truly fair and just and decent nation is supposed to operate. Some believe it must be Christian, some long for an open society where everyone can be anything. Some value equal opportunity for everyone to achieve their full potential while some believe that the fruits of a rich land need to be shared. That is common to many nations today, and the debate as to what exactly we value is important.
But we also spend far too much time arguing about what is reality to be considered healthy.
A quiet grey day in Saint Paul rustles slowly as the kids and animals laze deep into the morning. There’s no reason to get up early – no obligations, nowhere to be, no sun calling. The holiday has started on its own time, creeping into our lives without much fuss and fanfare because that’s how it comes. The holiday starts when everything else stops.
This is a repeat from 2014. But I love the story, and in this time of conflict it’s worth retelling.
Christmastime stories all have a touch of magic in them. From spirits of Christmas past, present, and future to a real Santa Claus the light of the season becomes real through some divine spark that illuminates a life. But all of these fairy stories dim in comparison to one with a much lighter touch of providence acting only through the hearts and arms of men. And this story is also true.
The time is a century ago, near St Yves, France. The Great War has stalled into the mud as Germans and English have dug in yards apart. The men of both sides shiver as December settles deep into the trenches. Hired on as murderers, the stench of death around them, they chose instead for a few days to be something much more. For a brief moment, they even become friends.
This is a season for peace.
It’s not about the birth of the vulnerable infant savior or the miracle of light. Climate and darkness commands all boreal people to hunker down and slumber, to close their eyes for a moment and accept their frailty as they seek comfort in family and friends. This is the time of year when all are equal in the search for warmth, for love, for companionship, for peace.
But we do not live in a time made for this season. There is conflict everywhere, as those with the means to close their eyes in security feel a need to secure their safety before they can rest easily. Those in pain lie down in the cold and wonder jealously what it would be like to fell such peace in the few dark moments they have of rest.
It is dark outside when the alarm goes off, not at all a time to wake up. The usual 8 hours and 41 minutes of daylight we can expect on a Winter Solstice is never enough to keep us going, even on a relatively warm and sometimes even bright year like this. The icy Winter of 2017 is just as dark as any other. The Solstice itself, that magic moment when the North Pole starts to wobble back towards the sun, comes on Thursday, 21 December at exactly 16:28 UTC/GMT (10:28 CST).
This is the end of the year traditionally. The new year should begin at Solstice, as is the ancient European tradition, just as the day begins at midnight. The only reason it doesn’t is that the Romans used a calendar, the Julian, that was off a bit by the time Pope Gregory XIII got around to revising it and everything moved ten days. No matter. The world since the Renaissance has increasingly been what we decree, not what we see.
We have discussed what Christianity isn’t, at least in terms of a political agenda pushed by some. We’ve talked about where his teachings may have come from and the unique moment in history that brought the world together. But what exactly did he say?