It’s all around us this time of year, if we listen. Subversive, revolutionary ideas about how the world ought to be fill the air. Our ears ring with the promise of hope, life, light in the darkness, the broken made whole, those who are oppressed finding justice, those who are enslaved finding freedom, those who are fleeing from conflict finding peace. It’s in there, right beside the Santa Baby’s and that one song by Mariah Carey that everyone still knows that they play every where, even in Thailand.
I hum the songs. I love the words, and as I hum them, so familiar, they catch at my awareness and bring tears to my eyes, steal my breath away. These words, they turn everything upside down.
“Truly he taught us to love one and other, His law is love, and his gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, and in his name, all oppression shall cease…”
“Come thou rod of Jesse bind, all peoples in one heart and mind. Bid envy strife and discord cease, fill the whole world with heaven’s peace. Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come you.”
It’s a lot to hope for; the end of war, the end of slavery, darkness turned to light, GOD with US.
But the words tug at us, if we listen to them, because they speak of what we all long for.
My husband went to Bangladesh last month. He went to Cox’s bazaar. He saw the press of desperate humanity, driven from their homes and villages, the country of their birth, stampeding over each other and being beaten back by soldiers with sticks, all for a few boxes of food.
Every week we see despair creep it’s way into hearts and minds and beat people down. We see men give themselves over to alcohol, to rage. Why fight to be good, to be strong, when at every turn you lose, are beaten down, and reminded that to some you have less value than the machines you work next to?
Women leave premature babies behind at the clinic, certain that they won’t live. They don’t want to even stay and allow for hope to creep in, to make the loss that much more painful, or take the chance that a child lives and is not normal, that their whole life will be hard and painful, and not worth living.
Little girls are raped, their humanity stripped away, reduced to flesh, to be owned and used.
I fight against despair too. Sometimes I succumb. I feel so small, so helpless in the face of so much evil.
All that we can do, and all that we are doing, may never be enough.
I can’t bring hope to the whole world. I don’t have that kind of power, though I long to see it all set right, all suffering to be ended. But every person we choose to help means saying no to someone else. That’s the nature of limited resources. Worse yet, we look in the faces of the people we must say no to, in order to better help those we’ve said yes to. I turn people away. I look in their eyes, and I turn them away.
Four days ago at the market a boy appeared beside my car, holding his hands out. All he said was hello, over and over again. I was putting my own children in the car at the time. Every time I walked around to another door, he was there in front of me, staring at me hopefully, saying hello. He was only a few years older than my little boys. How do you see someone, and let them know that you see them, that they are not invisible to you, without filling the pockets of the person most definitely controlling them, and using them to make money? I tried. I looked him in the eyes, and I told him I wouldn’t give today. It’s the right thing to do, in order to not make it worse for many children, sent to beg instead of to school, to not make it so profitable for those who would use children this way. But that doesn’t make it any less painful to send this child away empty handed, and with nothing I can do right now to help him.
Think of those soldiers, there to try and distribute food, to help people, taking out their sticks, and beating on them to get them to move away from the truck, looking into their desperate faces, and not being able to keep them from stampeding, from greater danger, without a stick.
“I heard the bells on Christmas Day, Their old familiar carol play, and wild and sweet, the words repeat, of peace on earth good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head, “There is no peace on earth”, I said, “For hate is strong, and mocks the song, of peace on earth good will, to men.”
I stop here, often. Hate seems so strong. The world is full of it. It’s full of people who hate so much they will turn a country to rubble and it’s people into refugees on the strength of their hate. In yesterday’s news I read that there are soldiers in Myanmar who will cut the throats of children and set huts on fire with living people inside of them, and worse. How can any of us have hope?
Since I was a little girl, listening to the stack of Christmas records on my father’s turntable this song has haunted me, the refrain of my deepest questioning summarized in two short lines of poetry.
I’m thankful for the answering refrain that I also can’t forget.
“Then still the bells tolled loud and deep, “GOD IS NOT DEAD, NOR DOTH HE SLEEP. THE WRONG SHALL FAIL, THE RIGHT PREVAIL, with PEACE ON EARTH GOOD WILL TO MEN.”
Those bells man, they won’t shut up. They make me look deeper, and look differently. Because hate is really loud, and it does shout mockery at the songs of hope, the songs of peace, but the songs are still there. Hope is still there. Peace is still there. Love is still there.
It’s in every family gathered around table tonight with enough to eat and drifting into contented sleep, snuggled together against the cold. It’s in every tiny baby who smiles for the first time and is greeted with answering smiles from an adoring mother or grandmother, father and older siblings.
It’s quiet, this revolutionary force. It doesn’t shout like hate does. But it shows up.
It’s there with the boxes of food sent to a refugee camp and aid organizations already working to help.
It’s there with every person who decides, “I’m going to send my extra $20, $30, $50 to help bring relief to families in extreme poverty.”
It’s there every time someone sits down next to someone suffering and becomes a companion through the pain.
It’s there in the foster mother cooing at another woman’s baby, making sure he knows he’s loved.
It’s there when a mother comes back, because she’s realized that there’s no escaping the thought of her child, and she needs to know.
It’s in every sincere apology and every moment a person picks their self up again after being knocked down.
It’s there in a story of a savior who rejects all of the things we might cushion ourselves with; money, power, fame, and enters into the rawness of human suffering, coming into squalor, to the lowest of the low. “God with us” in the worst of it, in the blood, guts, and tears of the poor. Love is where most of us would be afraid to enter.
Hate is strong, but we, the people of love, we are stronger. By God’s grace we don’t stop showing up.
We keep singing the song of hope, still letting ourselves be caught up by it, by carrying the flame of what we know this world ought to be inside our hearts. We may not see it completed in our lifetime, we probably won’t. But we don’t stop singing. We are the people of hope, the people of love, the people of peace. What a gift it is, this vision of what is not yet, but yet to come.
You and me, all of us, we keep our candles lit against the darkness and we ask, “How can I help?”
Sometimes we struggle to keep the song alive in our own lives, in our own struggles and suffering. But I’ve come to believe that hate cannot win, no matter how loudly it shouts, if there are still more people committed to love, who say yes to love, who don’t shut their eyes and ears to the suffering that they see, but they meet it with hope, with resources, with their own strength laid out on behalf of the weak.
I may have seen a lot of suffering, but I’ve also gotten to see how many people care about that suffering. I’ve seen too many of you throw in against the darkness, with your time, your strength, and your money, to ever be able to stay with despair long.
You lend strength to the right. You light a candle in the dark. You bring hope to the hopeless, and make it possible to say yes to one more person, for one more day. “Yes, we see you. Yes, you matter. You are not alone. We are with you.”
You are the bell ringers. The world needs you. We need you. We are so thankful for you and your faithfulness.
Carrien is a founder of The Charis Project
, an organization that provides vital support to families in crisis, through emergency aid, nutrition support for pregnant and breastfeeding women, education, and family enterprise initiatives in Thailand and Myanmar. By supporting The Charis Project you bring hope, strength and healing to desperate families and children, giving them a future and the opportunity to thrive.
Heal families, strengthen families, and keep families together. Together, we are Charis.
all content © Carrien Blue