It’s been a hell of a year, for so many people. Beginning with the tsunami, and later the earthquake, the hurricanes, there have been so many stories of tragedy, suffering and crisis.
Our personal lives too have their own accounts of struggle and at times despair.
I can’t recall a time when I felt less hope for the external structures of our society.
One wonders, are we looking in the wrong directions?
For me the answer is a definite ‘No’. I resist the religion of escape and the ethics of self-concern. I will not just go for the ‘me and my family, we’re doing alright’ mindset – much as our political leaders want us to.
This week, two really clear signs of good news and encouragment have come to me. They are both affirmations about the birth of Jesus.
A friend wrote to me in her Christmas letter, saying ‘thanks’ for this blog. That was nice, in itself, as I have sometimes wondered whether it is worth it, at times when I’ve been super busy and have not been able to do much writing.
She said that she hadn’t written anything in response, because those who do comment use such high quality theological language and she felt she is not up to that. Actually she is! And she showed me that by adding that it is a great encouragement to her that Jesus was born in a stable.
Well, it depends on what we think is ‘theological’ language anyway.
But here is a great theological insight!
She is absolutley right to suggest that it is not in technical language or high-sounding logic that we see God, any more so than in the poo-ridden, dusty, smelly straw of a stable.
This is where we know God at least as much, and for most of us far more so, than in those other forms. I am not denigrating my own discipline, of academic reflection and expression. But I am insisting that without the other insight, the ‘on the ground’ reality, that other ‘talk of God’ is not in fact talk of the Christian God, the one present with us in Jesus.
Then I read a newspaper column in the Melbourne paper The Age in which Muriel Porter wrote about the different experiences and views of Christmas within the churches. She reminds us of the puritan tradition which actually banned the ‘carnal’ celebrations of the Christmas fesitval—to the point of making the House of Commons sit on Christmas Day, in England.
Against this spirituality which finds it so hard to celebrate fleshly, human life, Porter is absolutely right to say:
‘there is something deeper at work in some parts of Christianity, beyond puritanical disapproval of fun and festivity. Christmas does more than celebrate the birth of a baby in a stable in Bethlehem. At its heart, Christmas commemorates the incarnation—the coming of God among human beings as a vulnerable human; not pretending to be a human, but actually, fully, becoming human. And if God became human, then humanity itself can be Godlike.
‘Christmas declares that it is in and through our own flesh that God comes to us, dwells with us and redeems us.’
This is it! This is the basis of my hope. I will continue to believe that our hope is not to escape from, or to be redeemed out of our situation. It is here, with us and among us, that God chooses to dwell. It is in us, with us, through us, that the Spirit moves to bring us new depths of life, together.
Happy Christmas, bloggers. I am off for a few weeks’ break now.
May it be a new year for us all. Keep safe. Enjoy!