Christmas time can be so depressing. It brings out some of the worst features of capitalism and rubs them in our faces. You can’t escape, whatever your philosophical or religious belief. Advertisements spur on feelings of guilt if you don’t buy enough of the right kinds of consumer products for people you love. They offer creative financing so that lenders can make even more profit. Moreover, it’s an environmental disaster… we produce, cart about, and dump into landfills, vacant lots, and incinerators more plastic, cardboard, and packaging at Christmas time than at any other time of the year. Yet … nearly smothered beneath piles of gift catalogues and sale circulars, nearly drowned in a sea of synthesised elevator-music Christmas carols, in a locked theological vault guarded down through the centuries by legions of preachers, priests, and pontiffs, there burns a persistent secret flame. It’s the flame of a revolutionary hope… hope for a better world, a more just society, where we turn the social order upside down so that we can feed the poor and relieve the rich of their ill-gotten gains. What’s more, it’s something that working people of any culture, any religious or philosophical background can relate to. What does Christmas have to do with the class struggle? In a word… EVERYTHING. The story goes like this:
Once upon a time, in a land far away on the edge of a great empire, there was a people with an ancient culture, a storied past, and a great literature, but a technologically advanced imperial power conquered them. Foreign soldiers occupied them; corrupt local despots who collaborated with the foreign oppressors ruled them. There were periodic revolts of local peasants and slaves, but the occupiers put them down mercilessly. In the midst of all that, a young unmarried girl became pregnant out-of-wedlock. You might think she’d regret this development, but on the contrary, she found in the anticipated birth of a child a reason to rejoice and to hope for a better world. In her joy and determination, she sang an ancient song of liberation:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me-He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
Gospel according to St Luke 1.46-53
She and her fiancée then had to make a difficult journey whilst she was in the last weeks of her pregnancy, ostensibly to comply with the demands of their imperial rulers to register for a census. Local inns denied them lodging. Homeless, the young family took shelter in a stable, where the mother went into labour and gave birth to a baby boy among barnyard animals. This was hardly an auspicious beginning for a child in whom his mother had placed such hope. Yet, things get worse. The local ruler, a collaborator kept in power through the occupation army, decided on an act of terror. Convinced that a revolt was brewing in the village where the young couple had just had their baby, he sent in death squads to kill all the male children under a certain age. Fortunately, someone tipped off the young family; they fled into a neighbouring country. There, they waited until they received news of the death of their corrupt local despot; afterwards, they came back to raise their son in their hometown. When he grew up, the boy became a carpenter. As if to fulfil the revolutionary hope expressed in his mother’s song, he went on to organise a movement for social and economic change. It was a coalition of fishermen, reformed prostitutes, the unemployed, and low-level public servants, with a cross-section of men and women, and people of different ethnic backgrounds. The aims of the movement were clear from the beginning:
Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight.
Gospel according to St Luke 3.4-5
He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable Year of the Lord.
Gospel according to St Luke 4.18-19
Therefore, when you look at the Christmas story closely, you find a story of working-class people living in difficult times, in circumstances not too different from those faced by millions of people today. These people are aware of their history of struggle. They draw strength from the lessons of the past and nourish hopes and dreams for a better world. Mary, the young mother in the Christmas story is supremely confident that the future will be better. Her song, known as the Magnificat, is nothing less than revolutionary. You can also find this revolutionary aspect of Christmas in the popular Christmas carol O Holy Night (Cantique de Noël). The French socialist Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure wrote the words and the American abolitionist John Sullivan Dwight translated it into English. Adolphe Charles Adam (a friend of Cappeau), a Jew, wrote the music. One verse of the carol states:
Truly, he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease!
Some reactionaries in our own country well understood the political ramifications of this carol and it continues to be controversial. For years, many conservative churches in the USA banned the song and many radio stations in the South refused to play it. So, whenever you get weary of the holidays and all the claptrap that surrounds them, do remember the young family of the Christmas story, how they hoped and dreamed for a revolutionary transformation of their country, and how they persevered in the face of oppression. Whoever you are, have a Merry and Revolutionary Christmas. Furthermore, let’s then enter the New Year resolved to wipe out homelessness, poverty, racism, and injustice once and for all!
22 December 1999
Rev Tim Yeager
Although it may seem otherwise at many times, the Church isn’t an ally or tool of the crapitalist oligarchs (rightwing oligarch-enablers such as Tikhon Shevkunov are noisy, indeed, but they’re not indicative of the entire Church). Indeed, our Holy Patriarch showed the way by his sincere and heartfelt condolences to the Castro family on the death of Comrade Fidel. A new and vibrant synthesis of the best of Christianity and Marxism is aborning… the USA wants to strangle it. It wants to suck out Orthodoxy’s inner reality and replace it with godless “Evangelical” goo. It wants to replace a godly concern with social welfare and social justice with bootless “Pro-Life” placard-waving and empty demonstrations. We should stand for the Real Christ… the Christ who went to the Cross because He pissed off the powers-that-be and the “religious” of His time. We have them with us still… people such as Victor Potapov, Rod Dreher, and John Whiteford are Caiaphas’ willing successors. However… do remember Our Lord Christ’s warning in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares… we can’t remove these rightwing elements without doing undue harm to the Church. Let them be. Let them shout. Let them rant. The Truth WILL out… especially, if we give it a warm welcome in our hearts and souls.
The illustration is the original one in the original post… it’s in the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem (in Palestine). I thought that you’d like to know that. Communism and Christianity are coming together, not only in Russia. Remember what Comrade Zyuganov said… “Christ was the first Communist”. It’s time for us to do likewise… do ponder that…