Christmas is the season of good cheer and merriment, right? Well, there’s no shortage of blues songs which suggest there might be another side to things. Take Floyd Dixon’s 1951 Empty Stocking Blues, for example – “It’s Christmas Eve, baby, I’ve got those empty stocking blues…I’m all alone this Christmas Eve and I don’t know what to do.”
Taking things down a notch further is this less than cheery number from Victoria Spivey from the 1920s. In Christmas Morning Blues, the singer bemoans the fact that her “man’s so deep in trouble, the white folks couldn’t get him free.” He’s on a charge which is “murder in the first degree.”
This is so distressing, she sings, “I ain’t had a Christmas with trouble like this before, Them bells is my death bells…Put this on my tombstone, I died with Christmas morning blues.”
Plenty of people this Christmas are going to have the Christmas Morning Blues, their lives blighted by violence. We think of the families of those victims of gun violence this year in San Bernardino, Columbia, Roseburg and from the other 349 mass killings in 2015. We think of the innocent women, men and children whose lives have been devastated by war in Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and many other places.
Politicians wind up the rhetoric of war – Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey said recently, “we’re facing the next world war.” Ted Cruz, Republican presidential candidate suggested that “we should carpet bomb them [our enemies] into oblivion.” War and violence seem to have become a way of life. Airstrikes, “surgical strikes” are the ready answer, with the inherent presumption that modern weaponry is so accurate, only the enemy combatants will be killed. Sadly, this is far from the truth.
Is this it? Are these current Christmas Morning Blues all we can expect? It’s worth pausing for a moment and listening to Mary, the birth of whose son we are celebrating this Christmas. She has something pretty important and relevant to say in Luke 1.46-55. She sings about a vision of how the world can be because of the birth of her son. It’s a new world where the proud, the mighty, and the rich are upended in favour of the hungry, the poor and the humble. Food and dignity for those who are lacking in both. It’s a revolution.
Mary doesn’t call for a violent upturning of the world. But Mary is confident that God is on the verge of doing something. The hopes and dreams of all the years were about to be realized through the birth of the Messiah. The humble beginnings of Jesus, his peaceful life, the manner of his death and the fact of his resurrection should all alert us to the fact that God’s way of working in the world is not by obliterating our enemies, carpet bombing them or any such coercive or violent actions. A new power, a new kind of power has been unleashed into the world which can, if we allow it, overturn and change the way things are. It’s the power of love.
Mary’s song is a cry of confidence in God, of faith in God’s future, of wild imagination that things in the world can be different, can be fair, can be just. This is why Christmas is a time of joy and a time of hope – despite the hurt and the suffering many have to bear. Mary’s song is a call for us to believe and hope once more that there can be a different shape to the future, if we’re prepared to embrace God’s peaceful and loving kingdom: “Roll the truth around your head…Can you feel it, bound for glory, glory bound”