In the midst of the pageantry and cultural traditions surrounding Christmas, it is easy to lose sight of the profoundly political ramifications of the birth story of Jesus. In an era of history transitioning between empires and an area of near constant geopolitical turmoil, a baby is born that will alter the course of human history.
Naim Ateek, a Palestinian theologian draws comparison from contemporary political challenges to illustrate this historical reality as he writes in the Christmas Address of the Sabeel Ecumencial Liberation Theology Center (www.sabeel.org),
From a Palestinian world view, there are certain similarities between the political conditions in Palestine during the times of Jesus’ birth and the political situation in Palestine today. There is a flagrant occupation that dominates and oppresses people; and there are words that describe what people go through: fear, insecurity, instability, suffering, grief, despair, and other negative feelings that a repressive empire and an Israeli rightwing government can produce.
That is why the words of the angel to the shepherds in the Christmas story strike a relevant chord, “do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…” What constituted good news for the shepherds in first century Palestine and what would constitute good news for our Palestinian people today? It is nothing less than FREEDOM AND PEACE, because both can produce a life of dignity, security, and stability to people.
In the midst of these difficult times, the implication of the Christmas message to oppressed people is basically clear: God knows and sees the suffering of the oppressed and God is doing something not through the people of power but through the birth of a baby who ultimately holds in himself the answer to the human condition of injustice and insecurity; therefore “do not be afraid.” (Christmas Address follows at the link below.)
In 1208, an Icelandic poet named Kolbeinn Tumason wrote Heyr Himna Smiður, which would become a stalwart piece of Icelandic Christian tradition. Its imagery is dynamic to these northern peoples, using the terms “Smith of the Heavens” to convey the craftsmanship and attention that God shows to creation; “mild one” which is a play on the word that means the generous tribal leader, or king; and “King of the suns”, capturing the spiritual significance of solar seasonality to the island just south of the Arctic Circle.
Listen to the poem sung in it’s original language with an English translation, performed by Ellen Kristjánsdóttir. (more…)