Peace on earth goodwill toward all mankind!
I have known tiredness in my life. Tiredness from long days of hard physical labour, tiredness from excessive strenuous physical exertion, tiredness from mental exertion in study and working through complex engineering and human resource issues, tiredness in vigil at bedsides – emotionally draining. Spiritual exhaustion from the demands of priesthood, but never have I felt the exhaustion that I have felt in this last month, especially in this week suffering from this dreadful virus and all its effects on our physical and emotional and spiritual and communal lives.
We have all been on a journey and yet our path has been so different, after all this time we still don’t really understand what each other have been through. I guess that’s life. Despite all efforts we don’t really understand what others go through in the struggles of daily life.
We forget that Christmas is about God relating to us in exactly that tragedy. The reality of the complexity of life. Christmas is not about wishing upon a star or pausing a moment to change our paradigm of thought. Christmas is about God saying – “Here I am; I am with you!”
The one great truth of Christmas is that it reminds us that God is with us, not just watching over us. The incarnation reminds us that Christ is: ‘in whom and with whom and through whom, we live and move and have our being.’ The incarnation moves us from a belief system to a participation. In Jesus we do not simply find someone to emulate (copy) or in whose footsteps to walk. In Jesus we find a transubstantiation of our souls. A transformation into new way of existing. Christmas reminds us that this metamorphosis brings us into a pattern of life that begins in vulnerability and limitations and grows ever deeper into submission to God the Father.
Christmas is the opposite of our seeking for power and strength and victory over our challenges. Christmas is our entering into a hostile world with the certainty that God is to be found right where we expect him least.
In the Christmas stories there are many journeys taking place. Every character’s story has something to teach us. From the leaders demanding a census, to the shepherds in the fields.
The wise men from the East have a story to tell. Being led away from their home into a distant land, unfamiliar territory, newness, the unexpected. I always think of how they arrived at Herod’s palace one of the most impressive buildings on earth. Can you imagine the shock when they were redirected to Bethlehem? They had followed the star and found greatness but had to be redirected to humility. It always astounds me that those that directed them to Bethlehem never went with them. Knowing that the Messiah was to be born there, being given the news that these people had come to seek and find the Messiah – they failed to journey with them and seek Him for themselves. Leaving power and prestige is not in our nature – but we require transformation to be able to see that it is the part that is required of us if we are to find the Saviour of the world.
And those wise men, arriving there in the humble setting, worship the infant King and giving him gifts demanding nothing from him. Opening their hearts to him to receive him and ask nothing of Him. I wonder how many times in our lives we truly journey as the wise men did and act the way that they did in worship.
It is probably the most romanticised night in history. A moment that combines every hope, absolute peace and complete joy.
We often see it as an interlude in the frenzy of life, just for a night we embrace peace in a moment of respite from reality.
We could all do with a little respite. As one of the many, families that is spending this Christmas in isolation, I am mindful of the great suffering that these last two years has brought. Most of us are unaccustomed to long term hardships, and the fact that it is universal and indiscriminate has added to our challenges in dealing with the situation. At the end of this year, I reflect upon all the things that we were unable to do to overcome our normal operational requirements, the things that never happened or were severely impacted upon due to this virus. Meetings not held, additional pressures that caused us to suffer almost to breaking point. Our way of being has been challenged to the core. We all need a little respite.
Our way of life is not easy, and we go into this Christmas wishing things were different.
For Joseph and Mary life was not easy. Growing up in occupied territory, as poor people who were just trying to make it through each and everyday in a culture that was shifting in polarising ways. Within their faith were sects developing as they tried to overcome years of oppression in exile. Different political and religious leaders within the greater community vying for power and using the Messianic hope to win followers. And now the dreaded Roman’s calling the people to be counted based on their heritage – they had to be counted in the city of birth. Going back to your place of birth causes mixed emotions. Subconsciously you re-examine your whole life and all its circumstances, second guess all your choices. To be a nobody in a foreign place is bad enough, but to have no where to go in your home town, the place of your birth, that brings on a whole new level of loneliness. And Mary and Joseph must have felt it.
Mary and Joseph were not experiencing a “ no room in the inn,’ in a foreign place, but in the place of their birth. Many people experience that today, can relate to that today, to being out of options in the very place that the world should be open to them.
And yet in this very space – Mary says – “ let it be to me, as you have said” in this very place Mary treasures all these things in her heart. In the last place that you would expect it, Jesus is proclaimed by Angles and Shepherds and Kings. “O Holy Night! The night when Christ was born!”
And so, I say to you at this Christmastide – God is in the story! It maters not what your circumstances look like nor what is going on in them. Christmas has one message – God is with us! Fall on your knees and hear the angle voices!
Christmas reminds us of our place in the world. It reminds us where our true hope is and where our true joy comes from. In the last two years we have suffered great loss, we are all grieving. The world as we know it has changed and yes we are exhausted. But, it is Christmas and it we would do well to remember that into the darkness has been born a great light. Into the world a great light has come and shone upon us and the darkness cannot overcome it.
This Christmastide you have a reminder before you of the choices that we have been given. Happiness is a choice, hope is a choice, joy is a choice, peace is a choice, faith is a choice. Jesus gives us that choice! When we choose Jesus, we choose a great adventure. It will take us through the valley of death and onto mountains of transfiguration. We will carry our cross, and have storms calmed and waters walked upon, stones rolled away and treasure houses opened. It is to this adventure that Jesus invites us all as He is born into the world with us.
In the incarnation God validates every human experience and every human emotion and every human activity. In the Incarnation God becomes one of us to make us one with Him. This Christmas choose life in all its complexity and embrace life and experience the joy, hope, peace and love that God wants for you.
May the incarnate Christ give you new life this Christmas and may you walk afresh in the light of Christ that all the world may know that God is here and we are his people.