The trappings of our American Christmas tempt many of us to dismiss the whole season as a baptized Saturnalia. But I encourage you to set aside this not undue criticism and see it, instead, as an opportunity to tell people about Miriam's Christmas.
Though some may protest your retelling of the Christmas story as an unwelcome intrusion upon fond memories of gifts, carols, and Christmas trees, we Americans very much need to hear about a woman who probably looked more like a beleaguered new mother in Iraq or a fearful immigrant mother from Mexico than the pale European-like Mary of our own Christmas images. If the Miriam of Luke's Gospel is to be taken seriously, then one should always include in their telling of the Christmas story a reading and discussion of that prophetic song about God's option for the poor and the oppressed commonly called the "Magnificat." And to make sure our listeners, young and old, grasp what Miriam's Christmas was really like, we would do well to include Matthew's addendum about the terror of King Herod and the Holy Family's refugee flight to Egypt. Those of us who have nativity scenes in our homes might well consider replacing its traditional figures with a photo of a Palestinian mother with child living in one of the many walled-in refugee camps on the West Bank.
Idolatrous systems, whether in the Middle East or here on the North American continent, bear within themselves the seeds of their own destruction. This is a truth we in the United States do not need to look to history books to verify. It is not the mission of the Church to demolish the structures of sin that surround us. Rather, as those spiritually distorted, social, political, and economic structures are undermined by their own dehumanizing contradictions, it is the Church's job to model the process with the New Testament refers to as the kingdom or reign of God, the new creation.
Celebrating Christmas in an authentic way is not a matter of giving up our singing of carols and giving of gifts. It is a matter of getting straight what the Christmas story is really all about: the dawn of a new age when poverty and oppression are no longer seen as necessary components of society, an age when the terror of war is no longer thought to be an effective way to rid the world of evil. Christmas is about the birth of what Jesus himself called "the Son of Man" or the "New Human Being." To celebrate Christmas in a faithful, authentic way is to renew our commitment to live life as a member of that New Human Being.
May the Spirited wisdom and courage of Miriam's child be with you this Christmas and throughout the year to come.