December 2017 (Published in the New Hampshire Concord Monitor)
One of the readings from the Psalms during the Advent season leading up to Christmas includes the lines, “(The ones) who go out weeping, carrying their bag of seed, will come back with songs of joy, carrying home their sheaves.” (Psalm 126: 6)
As a sandy soil gardener, I live through each growing season with the awareness that my ability to coax flowers to bloom and plants to produce vegetables is limited by the whims of weather, climate change, and the cycles of the moon! This past spring, summer, and fall have been especially challenging. I’ve watered, composted, mulched, staked, weeded, and chanted encouraging words over anemic faltering plants. My harvest songs of joy have been strained and muted as I have given thanks for the one meal of green beans, three tomatoes, a couple dozen cherry tomatoes, five stubby cucumbers, a few stalks of scraggly broccoli, and several snippets from stunted basil. Now the frost has frozen in place the pea-sized brussels sprouts. The garden, cleared of debris, sleeps under a protective blanket of snow.
It occurs to me that my gardening struggle may be a living metaphor that reflects the governmental and social malaise currently infecting our wellbeing. Many weep as they sow seeds of non-violence, seeds of welcome to the immigrant and refugee, seeds of healthcare for all, and seeds of economic justice; only to see them sprout and fall to the blight of lies, the drought of empathy, the derision of care for neighbor, and the domination of coercive power. Many “suffer the insults of the arrogant, the contempt of the proud,” and the patronizing of the rich. (Psalm 123: 3-4)
The burden of these struggles and the creeping December darkness bring out the curmudgeon in me. I don’t reach the extreme of a Grinch or a Scrooge or Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. But I am mired in a desperate void empty of the bright spirit of the Winter Solstice, Hanukkah lights, and the shining star of the Christmas nativity. Everywhere I turn the holiday spirit is overshadowed with discount purchase opportunities; new movies filled with explosions and violent solutions to evil; congressional legislation focused on accumulating wealth and human beings as commodities; and a regurgitation of verbal attacks among political and cultural adversaries.
Particularly egregious this holiday season has been President Trump’s announcement defying the wisdom of the nations of the world by declaring Jerusalem the Capital of Israel. He has totally missed the nuance of Jerusalem’s political history and its significance not only to Jews, but also for Palestinian Christians and Muslims. In 1947 the United Nations supported a divided Jerusalem, which held until the six-day war when Israel annexed East Jerusalem on June 18, 1967. And in 1980 Israel enacted the Basic Jerusalem Law declaring a unified Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal and indivisible capital.” The United Nations Security Council resolution 478 declared this law a violation of international law. Throughout this history, Palestinians have held on to their vision to have East Jerusalem as their Capital.
President Trump’s support of Israel’s claim on West and East Jerusalem has not only limited the possibilities for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians: Jews, Christians, and Muslims; but has also spawned violent reactions during this season of “Peace on Earth and good will toward all people.” Making his announcement just prior to Hanukah and Christmas has emboldened the Israeli military to increase restrictions on Palestinian Christians seeking to cross the barrier wall from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to observe Christmas services. These tightened military actions have also restricted Muslims from their holy sites and their places of work. And so this season of joy has been corrupted with tears of many peace-seeking Israelis and Palestinians; Jews, Christians, and Muslims; who have been working for so long to sow seeds of love and justice in a social and political climate of distrust, aggression, and fear. They are two peoples and three faiths, seeking the political presence of two nations and access to their holy sites in the historic city of Jerusalem.
However, to complete the garden metaphor, on the edge of our fatigued garden grows a thriving five-foot blue spruce tree. It stands strong through this winter of struggles in our country and in the holy places of Hanukah and Christmas. The two hundred tiny white lights sparkling in its branches on cold winter nights join with Hanukah lights and winter solstice fires to testify that darkness will not prevail. The persistent presence of our evergreen tree of life in our depleted garden proclaims the reality in the promise of a future proclaimed by Mary, mother of Jesus, “God has brought down monarchs from their thrones, and raised on high the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” The presence of this tiny blue spruce with its shining lights declare with Isaiah, “As the earth puts forth her blossom or plants in the garden burst into flower, so will the Sovereign God make God’s victory…blossom before all the nations.”
May the seeds of justice and peace be sown among us this holiday season to be nourished and blossom in our lives, in Jerusalem, and in all the nations of the world.