We often think of Advent and Christmas as a festive, happy time, with special foods, decorations, music, and celebrations. Yet, many find this season a difficult time. Indeed, for those who suffer abuse and violence, or have suffered abuse in the past, this season can be especially challenging. In addition to extra work, family gatherings can be stressful as they require one to interact with difficult family members. Or these gatherings can stir deep emotions which are hard to bear, from anxiety or anger to deep sadness and grief for the losses one has experienced.
The first Christmas was also a time of great hardship and pain. It is easy to forget this, given the romanticized cards and nativity sets which show only tranquil beauty in a clean, comfortable stable. In reality, it was a harsh time, when oppressed people were ordered to be counted so their occupying overlords could tax them more accurately, when women about to give birth were forced to travel for days over rough roads, when soldiers slaughtered babies, and Mary, Joseph and Jesus had to flee as refugees to escape the violence. It was a time filled with hunger and sickness and death.
Mary clearly identified herself with those who were lowly and hungry and poor. In a remarkable song to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 2), it is clear she knew what it was like to be to be vulnerable and hungry, on the other side of those who were proud and commanding. Yet, amazingly, she experienced God, not as One who stood with those at the top, but as One who stood with her, at the bottom. In the midst of all that was so wrong and evil, she expressed her faith that God was bringing life and hope into the world.
In a similar way, it is important to remember those who continue to suffer today. The period between November 25 and December 10 is observed throughout the world as 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. Observed since 1991, this campaign begins with the anniversary of the 1960 assassination of three sisters in the Dominican Republic and lasts until December 10, International Human Rights Day. This period also includes December 1, World Aids Day, and December 6, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, when 14 women engineering students were shot and killed.
Therefore, as we light candles during this season, let us remember:
- Those who suffer violence due to their work for justice and peace
- Those who suffer from HIV/AIDs, especially women who are often infected against their will
- Family members of those with HIV/AIDs, especially children who are orphaned and women who bear the greatest burden of care-giving
- Women and girls who become victims of violence because they are women, and viewed as inferior or the property of men
- All those whose basic human rights are violated, their needs for food, shelter and safety ignored and trammeled underfoot
And as we remember, may we like Mary renew our faith in God’s love, God’s promise to be present with us everywhere, even in the most desolate, dismal places. May our faith and courage remain true, able to believe that “The light shines in the deepest night, and the night will not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
By Linda Gehman Peachey, Women’s Advocacy Director, MCC US, December 2007.