I appreciate the pagan origins of Christmas in celebrations our distant ancestors held to mark the winter solstice. Millennia ago, it must have been unimaginably difficult for them to cope with the short hours of daylight, long nights, frigid temperatures, frozen water supplies, lack of fresh food sources and other challenges. So props to them for developing crude astronomical calendars such as Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland (pictured) to chart the winter solstice, and for devising various rituals to articulate their hope for an end to winter and the eventual return of spring.
As for the modern incarnations of Christmas tied to Christianity and the secular tradition of frenzied gift-giving, it’s not really anything I’m into. Last night, though, while cueing up a concert video on YouTube to listen to while I did some writing, I did have an opportunity to check out the first 10 seconds of Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall’s Christmas message to the province.
I was expecting the usual sort of “peace on Earth, goodwill toward our fellow humans” type message. Instead, Wall opted for a hardcore Christian theme. Here’s how it started:
Seven hundred years before the first Christmas, one of many promises by Old Testament prophets was made about the coming of the Christ. “For unto us a child is born,” wrote Isaiah. “Unto us a Son is given. And the government shall be upon his shoulder. And his name shall be called Wonderful, Councilor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
Couple that with prime minister Stephen Harper’s Christmas message where he urged Canadians to pray for Canadian military personnel who are currently waging war against ISIS militants in Iraq, and it was quite a double-dose Christian theology from our political leaders this holiday season.
Ironically, once Wall delivered his introductory remarks, in which he drew a pretty strong link between Christianity and the concept of government in a modern secular/multi-faith society, he did speak about the importance of peace. As for the West’s current campaign against ISIS, here’s a news flash: after this latest crusade is over, there still won’t be peace in the region.
Prayers won’t do much good either. Not when countries such as Canada and the U.S. provide unconditional military and political support for Israel as it continues to create new settlements in Palestinian held areas of the West Bank and Jerusalem. And not when we continue to prop up corrupt dictators in some countries in the region, and tear down others who displease us, creating ethnic and religious instability and power vacuums that radical groups such as ISIS are only too happy to fill — at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, and the displacement of millions more.
Really, the situation in the Middle East these days reminds me of South Africa in the 1970s and ’80s, where the apartheid regime would fund guerilla groups in frontline states such as Mozambique, Angola and Botswana to conduct terrorist operations. Not only did these South African-backed terrorists destabilize existing governments, they also sabotaged schools, hospitals, rail lines and other vital infrastructure, keeping residents of those countries in perpetual poverty and despair.
“Doing the Lord’s work” I believe it’s called in certain circles. And it’s hard to believe in 2015 that it’s still going on.