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Putting the spirit back into Christmas

Putting the spirit back into Christmas – views of clergy members

For some African-Americans, the holiday season and its meaning stop with the eggnog, turkey dinners, Santa visits and shopping sprees. But for others, the true spirit of Christmas extends far beyond a material celebration. For a growing number of Blacks, the yuletide season is a joyous time to move past the confines of nuclear family relationships to a broader base of human responsibility, one which encompasses the larger Black community. It’s an experience of goodwill wherein the precious gifts of time, love and happiness are preferred over the much pricier items traditionally purchased and exchanged during the season. More importantly, Christmas is an occasion to recall the Divine birth story, a story some claim is close in kin to the experience of Blacks in America.

Most important for the spiritually focused celebrant, the holiday season is a time to continue what usually begins and ends before the close of each year: attempts to bring divergent communities together in hopes of creating a peaceful, harmonious world for all.

On the following pages, six religious leaders tell us what we can do to put the spirit back into Christmas.

The Rev. Prathia Hall Wynn

Pastor, Mount Sharon Baptist Church, Philadelphia, and Associate Dean, United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio

When I reflect upon Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ, I am struck by the degree to which the major characters in the birth narratives were willing to make their lives fully available to God. It was clear that once they said yes to God, their lives would never be the same. Mary and Joseph planned a marriage, not a life parenting the child of God and savior for the world. Even Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, rejoiced at the news that she would become a child-bearing, child-rearing senior citizen. Life for each of these ordinary people was forever changed by their availability.

My prayer for the Christmas season is that more of us will be inspired to make our lives available to God for the divine mission of justice and peace on the earth. Indeed our lives would be forever changed, but so would our world. We would be agents of God who put Mary’s song into action. We would continually `lift the lowly and fill the hungry with good things.’ We would do this good work, not for the holiday, but for life. We would put the spirit back into Christmas because the spirit would be active in our lives.

There is a further aspect of the Christmas story which is seldom reflected upon, which when remembered is of special significance to African people across the world. it is found in the story of the escape of Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus into Egypt and the subsequent slaughter of innocent infants in Palestine. When the land of Jesus’ birth became a place of extreme danger because of the murderous plot of Herod, the king, against the child, Jesus, Egypt became the land of sanctuary, the safe place.

Today, more than some other times in our history, African-Americans can identify with the inconsolable cry of Rachel, weeping for her children, “because they are no more (Matthew 2:18).” We can remember this grievous experience of an oppressed people and commit ourselves to the rescue of our children. Further, we can celebrate the fact that the place of rescue and refuge for Jesus was in Africa.

The Rev. Cecil L. Murray

Senior Minister, First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Los Angeles

To put the spirit back into CHRISTMAS is to make further identification between the CHRIST of CHRIST MASS and the sheep of his pasture – the Black sheep, that is. Jesus was a homeboy, descended through “Black and comely’ Solomon; as a baby, taken down into Black Egypt to hide him from the wrath of Herod, demonstrating the efficacy of hiding chocolate among chocolate, not vanilla.

Jesus’ folks were home folks: Moses marrying Zipporah, the Ethiopian whose father, Jethro, teaches Moses a model for jurisprudence still in effect today, and whose tribe walked the freed Israelites through the wilderness to the gates of the promised land, there to spawn Solomon and Jesus – blood kin.

Merry CHRIST MASS, Jesus’ family. You are somebody! Love one another!

COPYRIGHT 1994 Johnson Publishing Co.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group