Read this essay as originally published at Watermark.com
Joseph and Mary were returning to Joseph’s homeland, to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem where they were to be counted for a census. With their swaddling Christ-child in tow, and after a visit by the Magi, Joseph was warned by an angel to flee to Egypt. The corrupt King Herod, in a desperate and evil attempt to hold onto power in the face of prophecy, was intent on slaughtering all male children under the age of two. Thus began the greatest story ever told: a story of genocide and escape: a story of disappointment and hope: a story of resilience and salvation: a story of statelessness and the piecing together of a community from the diaspora: a timeless love story.
Half a world and two millennia removed, the winter holidays in America continue calling us home to be counted. That homecalling takes on a different tenor, depending upon the particular cantors, carols, and cabals that may be doing the calling. That homegoing changes, sometimes miraculously and sometimes without fanfare, depending upon to whom and to what we are responding. As families disperse or fade away through attrition, as they are splintered by geography or by steps, we have learned to create new homes and new families—new connections—to build communities from scratch out of the rubble of our state-deprived diaspora.
Strengthened by love, our community tarries. We have not overstayed, rather we have enriched the broader culture with our gifts. We have invested in America, a nation with the notion that we are all created equal. We continue to make political, social, and cultural gains. Our relevance extends beyond identity as we continue to pride ourselves toward critical mass. We are winning. Love, the reason for this season, wins.
There are those, this holiday season, for whom love alone will not create a hearth to gather round. There are those, this holiday season, who are internally displaced and in fights for their lives. There are those in a fraught and growing diaspora, in the holy land, whose fight for love and pride and equality is subordinated to a fight for survival: for food and medicine and clean water and safety from bullets and bombs and hostage-takers. In the holiest of lands in the holiest of seasons, we witness dual-genocide, we witness shattered families and human pawns in a game of brinksmanship between terror and callousness. We witness families fleeing to Egypt from Palestine, we witness the heartbreaking slaughter of children and women. We witness the gruesome deaths of young people—an entire generation of Israelis and Palestinians fighting, facing an unwinnable war—based on the intransigence of generations past.
Kibbutzim and ghettoes are mortared, hospitals and schools are destroyed, militants are hiding behind innocents; militants and strongmen are fighting not just for their own homelands but also for the obliteration of their enemies’ right to even exist. Until the competing, equally repugnant causes—apartheid (as Amnesty International describes it) and terrorism --are dismantled in Gaza, Israelis and Palestinians will remain locked in this dreadful, violent churn.
As we, here in America, reform and
progress, as we reconstitute communities, as we celebrate our political and
social wins, as we resist authoritarianism and as we return home, let us not
treat that as a prodigality. Our progress is directionally sound and it is the
further realization of the love story that started in that manger in Bethlehem
two thousand years ago.
But with our safety and security, with our gains, and with our rights come responsibilities. We must advocate for peace in Palestine because where callous authoritarians and feckless terrorists endanger the dignity of human life anywhere, it is an affront to dignity and human life everywhere. If we do not stand up for the innocent people of Gaza: If we do not stand up for the innocent people of Israel: If, in our silence, we tacitly endorse the warring factions that are perpetuating and advocating genocide, we endanger ourselves. If we do not fight callous authoritarianism and feckless terrorism abroad, it will come to our shores and these forces will endanger all of us. We must disempower terrorists. We must neutralize authoritarians.
We can pray. We must also act and advocate. If we are to claim the greatest love story as our own, we must rally with all of our vicissitude for what’s right here and abroad.
If the terrorists and authoritarians prevail there, we will be fighting a much more consequential, far more deadly fight here. Authoritarianism and Terrorism are already manifesting and proliferating in America. When that war comes here full bore, when the terrorists face off against the authoritarians here, it won’t be for the right to love who we want, it will be for the right to exist at all. If we don’t insist on peace, if we ignore the slaughter of innocents, then we have not only proven that we are not heirs to the greatest love story ever told, but that we are not deserving of love or a state or even a home at all.
Now! Now is the time to be counted.
What, after all, would Jesus do?