He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives. ~Luke 4:18
The Christmas experience for the 18th and 19th century American slave gave us Christmas Spirituals such as Go Tell It On the Mountain and Mary Had A Baby.
The slaves of the antebellum south experienced Christmas in various ways. It depended greatly on their master’s inclinations.
Some of the plantation owners would keep the slaves supplied with wine and beer. Since this was the only time of the year that they had access to alcohol, the slaves would typically consume nonstop, keeping them in a lethargic, drunken stupor. The great abolitionist, Fredrick Douglas, theorized that this sluggish, catatonic condition was intentionally created by the slave owners to decrease the likelihood of runaways during the holidays. He viewed the holiday celebrations as another form of oppression.
Jonkunno (pronounced jon canoe) was a tradition of music, dance, and costumes. The slaves would form a parade of performers, moving from house to house, in the hope of receiving a gift.
One of the oddest Christmas traditions from this sad era is the tradition of the slaves to ‘catch their Christmas presents.’ It was a kind of game for the slaves, adults and children alike. They would wait in hiding to capture their white, wealthy overseers. They would hold the individual for ransom crying out ‘Christmas gift.’ The ‘prisoner’ would retrieve a treat or small gift from their pocket in return for freedom. One can’t help but notice the irony (and cruelty) in this momentary inversion of power.
Along with these traditions, there are ample stories of Christmas being a time of lightened workloads, gift giving, and above average kindly interaction between masters and slaves.
Christmas meant freedom for the slaves. Granted, it was more of a fleeting sense of freedom and not actual freedom. But it was more freedom than they experienced the rest of the year.
Christmas means freedom for all of us actually. Emancipation is given as one of the prophesied reasons for His birth. He came to proclaim freedom to the captives. That little Baby in the manger came to set us free.
He came to emancipate us from the slavery of sin and the destructive passions of our flesh. He came to buy us back from our enslavement to the gods of this world. The author of Hebrews writes that Christ came to give freedom to those that have spent their lives enslaved to the fear of death (2:15).
You can be free this Christmas. The Bible teaches that we can be free from sin and the fear of death. This freedom occurs as we become slaves of Christ. We become slaves of Love, Himself.
The Christmas Spiritual Go Tell It On the Mountain is pulled from Isaiah 52:7. In this passage, the Good News of restoration by a redeeming, returning and reigning King is being proclaimed to people in bonds and shackles.
Down in a lowly manger
Our humble Christ was born
God sent us His salvation
That blessed Christmas morn
Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born
In a previous post, I wrote about Christmas Carols as Protest Anthems. O Holy Night was introduced in America shortly after the Civil War.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
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.
Let’s tell people that Freedom is here. Salvation is done. Forgiveness is given. Let’s call people to believe.
Let this His Advent be your Christmas emancipation?