It’s rare for me to feel embarrassed about being a Christian. But watching media interview American Christians who supported Donald Trump, I was embarrassed. I simply couldn’t reconcile the poisonous and frequently false rhetoric of the president-elect with the implications of the Gospel message.
During the Christmas season, Christians and non-Christians can discover the implications of that message in the nativity.
Last night, as I stuffed and stitched cloth nativity figures for my grandchildren to play with as we read the Christmas story, I had plenty of time (due to my inadequate sewing skills) to reflect on the nativity as a metaphor for our time.
Every nativity scene has a baby Jesus with open arms. The baby is ready to embrace everyone and everything. His open arms are a powerful symbol of welcome, friendship and acceptance.
He is also a symbol of vulnerability. He is, after all, in a feeding trough filled with hay. That ox and ass hovering around might start rooting in the manger for food.
Every nativity scene also includes the baby’s parents, some shepherds and three wise men, variously referred to as kings or magi. This disparate group of strangers might feel some trepidation about rubbing shoulders. They are a mismatch of cultures, religions, ethnicity and socio-economic status. But before the baby, their differences melt away. Male or female, rich or poor, Jewish or not, they are people equal in dignity.
The climate of the stable stands in stark contrast to two trends gaining momentum in western society.
As recent political events have illustrated, truth is on its way out. Oxford Dictionaries chose post-truth as the 2016 word of the year. Use of the term spiked during the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the U.S. presidential election.
Oxford defines post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In plain speak, “don’t confuse me with the truth” sums up the present mood.
A November tweet from the U.K. newspaper the Independent lamented, “We’ve entered a post-truth world and there’s no going back.”
Apparently, people have no appetite for truth. Truth has become irrelevant.
The runner-up to the 2016 word of the year was alt-right. Alt-right refers to an ideological group that espouses ultra-conservative and reactionary viewpoints. The alt-right rejects mainstream politics and uses online media to disseminate its content. This content frequently smacks of white supremacy, racism, misogyny and anti-Semitism.
The word of the year and its runner-up are indicative of the troubling times in which we live. From the pushback on refugees and immigration to reports of an escalation in incidents of racial violence, western society seems to be trending backwards. This trend is playing out internationally and in our own communities.
Racist flyers, for example, are cropping up in villages, towns and cities across the country. In my village of about 1,700 inhabitants, someone found and removed an anti-Semitic flyer from a community bulletin board. In Richmond, B.C., residents rallied against the distribution of anti-Chinese flyers. In Edmonton, police were on the lookout for a man believed to be delivering flyers targeting Muslims. In Toronto, police were investigating racist posters urging people to join the alt-right.
In this climate of suspicion and hatred, the scene at the stable can be an inspiration for more harmonious human interactions. The nativity can remind us that being human has always been risky, that to love means to be vulnerable and that the way to peace is one of inclusion, not exclusion.
In the environment of the stable, ego gives way to humility, suspicion to trust, prejudice to acceptance, superiority to friendship, bombast to silence and falsehood to truth.
Whatever beliefs we hold, may the peace and goodwill that infused the stable with warmth on that first Christmas penetrate our hearts, correct our attitudes and inform our actions throughout the coming year.
The Gospel message so beautifully presented in the nativity will never embarrass me. I am embarrassed, though, that we still don’t get it.
Louise McEwan has degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation.