In the fall of 2020, the original Broadway cast of the musical Hadestown released a holiday album entitled “If the Fates Allow.” It was a surprising musical offering from this group, as their show is a modernized retelling of the ancient Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice—not exactly the kind of show you’d expect to connect to the holidays.
But the musical director brought a unique vision. The vocalists reprised their roles from the show and sang melancholy holiday tunes that fit the emotional state of their characters at the end of the tragedy. It’s a somber album that artfully captures the tension many feel around the holidays as they hold grief in one hand and hope in the other.
While most of the songs are familiar holiday tunes from Jewish and Christian traditions, the Hadestown creator Anaïs Mitchell included an original Christmas song entitled “Song of the Magi.” When asked about the song, Mitchell, who has a background in political science, indicated that she wanted to highlight the similarities between the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth and the circumstances of the children born along the Gaza Strip today.
As I look at my Facebook feed in the light of Hamas’ recent attacks and the Israeli government’s retaliation, it’s clear that a certain brand of Christians does not seek to see the connection that Mitchell sees.
Instead, I’ve seen numerous would-be “experts” share their opinions on end-times theology and how the current violence along the Gaza Strip fits into the narrative. In the briefest of summary, the belief is that Christ can only enact the Second Coming if the Promised Land is restored to Israel after several years of conflict in the Promised Land.
This conflict includes destroying mosques and driving out all non-Jewish people. (It seems these folks have forgotten that the God of Isaac is also the God of Ishmael, but I digress.) If violence is the only way to achieve that goal, then so be it; the ends justify the means, even if the means include unfathomable bloodshed.
To those who hold those beliefs, I have several questions: Why are you so quick to turn the Prince of Peace into a god of war? Is your Jesus so weak as to require the blood sacrifice of innocent children in order to achieve the Second Coming? How does it make sense for the same Jesus who said “let the little children come to me” to be fine with those children becoming collateral damage in a violent war?
Why would the same Jesus who chastised Peter for drawing a sword require the dropping of bombs to create sanctuary “on earth as it is in heaven”?
If you believe that Jesus is all-powerful, then it’s illogical to also believe that any human action could prevent the Second Coming. If something as small as the presence of the “wrong people” in the Holy Land is enough to keep Jesus from returning, then your Jesus is weak indeed.
Admittedly, addressing the Western Christian pseudo-science of the end-times is an incredibly privileged thing to do in the light of the utter tragedy that’s happening along the Gaza Strip. Even so, I do so for a specific reason: The faith leaders who teach this theology exacerbate the violence.
They encourage their followers to pressure their political leaders to declare blind allegiance to one side. By doing so, they add fuel to a political fire they do not understand and have no intention to contain. It’s arrogant, self-serving and dangerous.
They also provide their followers reasons to avoid sending humanitarian aid to those in crisis. For if this violence is God’s will in order to achieve the Second Coming, then why should they send help?
Any help they send would only delay Christ’s return, right? And thus, children become sacrificial lambs toward “the greater good.”
If we are to be part of the solution that ends this violence, we must evolve beyond a theology that necessitates needless bloodshed in order to achieve our vision of paradise. We must confront our loved ones who hold these theological views. This theology will damn us all if we continue to use it to justify the deaths of innocent people— Palestinian and Israeli alike.
Maybe it’s naïve to pray for peace, but it’s my prayer, nonetheless.
It’s my prayer that the terrorist attacks cease. It’s my prayer that Palestinians and Israelis, that Jews, Muslims and Christians come together in compassion. It’s my prayer that “Song of the Magi” is no longer a necessary conversation with children along the Gaza Strip:
“Welcome home, my child
Your home is a checkpoint now
Your home is a bordertown
Welcome to the brawl
And life ain’t fair, my child
Put your hands in the air, my child
Slowly now, single file, now
Up against the wall”
As “Song of the Magi” progresses, you’ll notice that it shifts from telling Jesus’ story to telling the story of the children along the Gaza Strip. But, in an act of lyrical genius, Mitchell makes it impossible to pinpoint exactly when that shift happens.
Perhaps the ambiguity is an intentional reminder to us that Jesus is the children along the Gaza Strip, and those children are Divinity wrapped in human skin.
For didn’t Jesus teach “whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me”?
May we see Jesus in those in the border towns. May we stop accepting the sacrifice of innocent people on the idolatrous altar of our theological conspiracy theories. May we instead seek to do the one thing Jesus taught exhaustively: Love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
A bivocational pastor, writer and spiritual director based in Atlanta, Georgia, she currently works as a Spiritual Director at Reclamation Theology. Cawthon-Freels is the author of Reclamation: A Queer Pastor’s Guide to Finding Spiritual Growth in the Passages Used to Harm Us (Nurturing Faith Books), and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.