The past week has been a difficult one in the United States. Yes, there was another senseless shooting. Over two dozen innocent people were killed, mostly children. The killer was little more than a youth himself. In our tragedy, the world looks on in horror and disbelief.
The events of the Sandy Hook shooting aren’t new. Perhaps we’ll remember this shooting a bit better than most because it involved children, much like we remember that a shooting took place at a school in Columbine, CO. Wikipedia lists a total of seven school shootings in 2012 alone. That doesn’t include the shooting in the movie theater in Aurora, CO; the Kansas City football player who killed himself after shooting his girl friend; or the list of many other shootings that have simply become part of daily life in the United States.
The reality of violence has captured our attention just as Hanukkah was coming to an end and Christmas fast approaching. Given the ways in which we celebrate these holidays, the horror of the killing of school children appears to be in stark contrast to the spirit of the holiday cheer. Yet, the roots of our holiday customs are found in hardship and tragedy. The year-end holidays are rooted in stories of hope in the midst of very dark times.
Around 170 BCE, the Syrian king, Antiochus, had ordered an attack on Jerusalem. As the legend goes, the observant Jews were fighting not just to protect their homeland but their traditional religious practices. In keeping with those religious practices, an oil lamp was to be kept burning in front of the holy place in the temple. In the siege, oil was in short supply. Miraculously, a one day supply of oil lasted for eight days through the battle. The legend of Hanukkah carries with it lessons on the importance to struggle for justice so that darkness will not overcome the light but that light will shine forth.
Less than two centuries later, Judea was occupied by another oppressive foreign power: the Romans. While the Christian scriptures present two very different sets of legends surrounding the birth of Jesus, what is consistent in both of them is that it was in the midst of struggle and hardship that the child was born. The account provided by Luke explains that angels sang out in the night while Matthew describes the emergence of a star on dark, cold night.
Even the legend of Santa Claus bringing gifts to children is rooted in a history of hardship and woe. The historic figure, St. Nicholas, the fourth century bishop of the city of Myra (now in Turkey), is said to have advocated for young girls caught into a life of prostitution. Nicholas provided dowries to enable these young girls to marry in order to have a better life.
While I enjoy the merriment and mirth of the holiday season, as I reflect on the wave of violence in the United States as well as the violence in many parts of the world, I am struck at the ways our holiday legends speak to the struggles we now face. They are stories of people in hopeless situations who dared to hope for something more than life seemed to offer them. It was that hope which brought them to a new awareness and way of life. In that way, hope changed the world in which they lived.
Rather than eat more rum balls and have another cup of cheer to dull the pain of life, the historic legends of the holidays can inspire us to engage the struggles of injustice and work for a better world. Life has always been difficult. There are always times in history and moments in our lives when it seems that darkness will win out and extinguish the light. Fundamentally, the holiday message is to live with hope because the light will shine out in darkness. Indeed, the darkness will not overcome the light if we continue to kindle it within us.
© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.