Last Monday, the day after 12th night, Jane and I packed away Christmas. We took down the cards. We dismantled the lights. We put away our much loved nativity set. On some of the cards were pictures of the shepherds who came to see the new-born Jesus at that first Christmas. What would have happened to the shepherds, I mused, after such life-changing events? Would they have seen their world in the same way as before? Would they have carried on as before or would their lives have taken a completely different direction as did those of the first disciples? If they had carried on as shepherds, how would life have been different?
On other cards there were the wise men, also referred to as the three kings and the magi. What may have happened to them when they returned home, I wondered? They would have been deeply affected by their journey and their search – did their world of wealth look the same to them? Did they carry on as before?
Then came the next question – what about us, today? What difference does the Christmas celebration make to us? When we pack it away 12 days the celebration to gather dust in the attic, do we forget about it until next Christmas? Do we carry on as though nothing has happened.
We can never know how it affected the lives of the shepherds and wise men – they walk off the pages of the Christmas story and are never seen or heard of again, though poets and artists make some creative guesses. But we can know how this story of God, in the person of Jesus Christ, bringing love, peace, hope and liberation into creation affects us and our world.
Let’s think first about our world. Is it more filled with love, peace and hope than it was before that first Christmas 2000 years ago? The answer to that is found by looking at the Middle East today, at the city of Bethlehem where Jesus was born which is surrounded by walls, barbed wire and watch-towers. There is not much evidence of liberation there. In fact, many are trapped. The place from which the wise men came, Persia, is modern Iran. Today, Iran is under attack from many quarters. Love, peace, hope, liberation? What do you think?
What about us? Does this event affect us? Have our lives been touched by the Christmas message of love, peace, hope and liberation? Looking around at the world today, what can we do in the middle of so much carnage? What difference can we make? What can we in Wootton Courtenay do? Three pointers emerge from these events.
First, we should not lose heart. It is tempting, when surrounded by so much negativity and violence to shrug our shoulders and give up. I have visited Palestine and Bethlehem on a number of occasions and I have a Palestinian friend who runs an organisation that supports families passing through trauma. He himself is restricted in the places he can travel – in many ways he, like so many Palestinians, is trapped. I once asked him whether he saw a way out of the difficulties that the Palestinian people face as some lose their homes, ancestral lands and freedom of movement. He looked at me and said, ‘No, I don’t. But I am bristling with hope.’ He could not see a way forwards, but he believes that there will be one, in time. Hope means that there can be a different future that leads to a fuller, liberated life, even though we cannot see it at present. Hope is a patient working and waiting, confident that change will happen.
Secondly, the Christmas message refreshes our commitment to love, peace and hope in the places we inhabit: our homes, our communities, our work places. There are small steps and actions in our relationships that each one of us can take if we choose to do so. The Christmas message comes alive first and foremost In the ordinary and every-day where negativity, fear and belittling of the other can be countered with love, peace and hope. It doesn’t mean that there is no struggle, no arguments and disagreements; it doesn’t mean that there are no tears, but it does make these values of love, peace and hope the soil in which our lives can flourish and be liberated.
Finally, we can give our support and encouragement to movements and causes that promote these values – and we will be surprised how quickly a good cause can take root and spread. For many years, peace in Northern Ireland looked an impossibility. Then something changed, ordinary people who wanted peace and love to replace the bullet and intimidation went on the march. Two years ago, a teenage girl from Sweden was sitting in uncomfortable places witnessing and making personal sacrifices for the sake of the planet. Because a lot of ordinary people believed in the values she was espousing, they seized the opportunity and offered her support and encouragement which meant that a world-wide movement was ignited. There are many other examples where small movements promoting love, peace, hope and liberation have taken off because ordinary people like you and me who believe in these values have offered support and encouragement. This is the story of the Christian faith itself which started with the birth of a vulnerable baby over 2000 years ago – that’s the Christmas we have been packing away over the last week.
So how does celebrating the events of Christmas affect us during the rest of the year?
‘Thought for the Day’ for Songs of Praise Service at All Saints’, Wootton Courtenay 12th January 2020. At the end TS Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’ was read.
Image 3 by Anders Hellberg