On many a corner, lawn, or park at this time of year, the creche, the Christian nativity scene used as a holiday ornament, calls to the minds of many the strains of the carol “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” in which the traditional verse is sung, “Peace on the earth, good will to men, from heaven’s all-gracious King!” or as it appears in our gray hymnal, “Peace on the earth, to all good will, from heaven the news we bring.” This echoes the words of the angels that appeared to the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke. The story requires us to suspend judgment and provisionally accept the unrealistic elements of the story as trying to tell us something the story teller and many people since have held to be important. And it is important. It may seem idealistic, whether it is uttered by angels in the night sky or by Liberty, Love & Justice for all and progressive post moderns protesting injustice and bad laws. It may seem unachievable in a world where the leaders of the US and North Korea utter veiled and not so veiled threats about the strength of their will to annihilate each other if pushed too far. It may seem unachievable in a world where people use their religion as a weapon against others and perceive others’ religions as a weapon that will be used against them. “Peace on the earth, to all good will!” But whether or not we can imagine achieving it, the fact that we can imagine it gives us hope, direction, and purpose, if we let it.
A couple of weeks ago, the Celebration of Holiday Lights opened in Gypsy Hill Park in Staunton. This Fellowship takes part with a display that depicts our beautiful stained-glass window with the flaming chalice rooted in the landscape of the Shenandoah Valley overlooked by the Blue Ridge. Our display features the words “Peace – Love – Service – Happy Holidays.” And through the year each year, I occasionally hear from members of the community how much they appreciated our display. Peace. Love. Service. Happy Holidays. Whichever holidays you celebrate.
But this year when the organizations and businesses put up their displays of lights and signs and other ways of showing their holiday spirit, advertising their presence, and supporting the community, one organization that some of you belong to put up a display that some people thought didn’t express enough holiday spirit. Like our Fellowship’s display, it did not use the word Christmas. It also didn’t use the word holiday. And there certainly wasn’t anything that would make us assume the message was essentially Christian. It was the SAW Action activist group’s display that prominently featured the word “Coexist” outlined in lights, with the individual letters formed with religious and other symbols from various traditions. Muslim Crescent. Star of David. Christian Cross. Daoist Yin-Yang. A Peace Sign. And the symbols for man and woman joined into a single, joined symbol. The initial response of the committee that oversees the Celebration of Holiday Lights was to literally pull the plug on this Coexist sign. And when the newspaper came asking questions, a member of the committee said that it was turned off because it didn’t belong in this celebration because it did not have a holiday message.
Think about it. In this holiday season when a large portion of America sings, “Peace on the earth, good will to men!” no matter what they believe about angels making noise in the night sky or about a virgin giving birth… in this holiday season, when the infant laid in the decorative creches is called the Prince of Peace by Christians… in this holiday season a message, “Coexist,” that says that people should strive for that ideal of peace on earth and goodwill between individuals and tribes and nations… “Coexist” alone among the displays in Gypsy Hill Park was arbitrarily determined not to enough about the holidays.
I would say that nothing could be farther from the truth. In a park that honours and delights in neighbours and friends putting up a display that advertises their business, club, or church, the song of the angels condensed to a single word was among the most spiritual, the most directed toward the holiday, perhaps even among the most Christian of all the displays. Especially when you add in the smaller unlighted signs to the side of the lighted Coexist sign, including one reading “Love trumps hate.” Ultimately the committee decided that they could coexist with the Coexist sign but that Love trumps hate had to come down because it was political.
Think about it, “Love trumps hate” is political and cannot be tolerated. Love being greater than hate is an objectionable message. Political, not a holiday message. Well, on the one hand, you can’t win every struggle, even when you are on the side of right and good. And yes, the message is political. But it is political in the same way that all action to better the lot of humanity is political.
Love trumps hate. Love is the only message that can defeat racists and misogynists and anti-Semites and homophobes and transphobes. Love came down at Christmas, romantic poet Christina Rosetti wrote in words that were made into a carol. “Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine; Love was born at Christmas, Star and angels gave the sign.” And what was the purpose of love in this seasonal story? It certainly wasn’t to sell cards and merchandise. The story of love that the season of Advent prepares for and the Celebration of Holiday Lights gets the community ready for is not to stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder and bolster the economy. At least not per se. The story that these weeks and the flurry of activity was established to put people in a frame of mind to do something positive about was all about conquering hate.
Affirm and promote the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Love trumps hate. Coexist.
There are nuances that may come across differently at different times of year or when different things are happening in Washington DC. But this message is one of seven core concepts, seven baseline principles that the member congregations of our association promised each other we would put our back into. You can believe something and just be too dang busy to do anything about it. But a covenant is about action. By joining the Love & Justice for all Association and remaining a member congregation, this Fellowship has promised all other Liberty, Love & Justice for all congregations that we will do something to further the goals of world community, deep and abiding peace, liberty for all, and universal justice.
In the Qur’an, it is written: “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another.” But this idealized vision of how humanity should coexist in community, knowing each other, never turns away from knowing the truth that there are enemies who may attack and changes that people must make to bring peace into the world.
Comparing the work that our Fellowship has covenanted to do to the work of Sisyphus runs the risk of being disheartening. Indeed, in times like ours, simply turning on the news can feel disheartening. And yet, there is a pairing, as in the song, of the struggle and the power. The nature of life is that we go through cycles of repetition, sometimes in practice, occasionally with meaningful transformation, and always changing ourselves through the pattern and commitments of our struggle to nudge the world in the direction of peace and coexistence, with love trumping hate, and with Liberty, Love & Justice for all.