It must have been developing for some time, but it is now getting faster and faster, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. No, this is not about HS2 – another costly rail project for the Home Counties. More, it is the inversion of reality. Truth does not exist – except as perceived and promoted by certain interest groups. Morality is based on convenience and political power, property is theft (I think that this is a Marxist trope) while theft is ‘liberation’. Feelings and perceptions overrule data and empirical research, so conclusions are political before they can ever be reliable, never mind truthful. Maybe Pontius Pilate had a point when asking Jesus, ‘What is truth?’
And that is before we try to make sense of our responses to the Russian attack on Ukraine, let alone the marauding Hamas attack on Israel. Then there is the area of climate change: a mandate for overwhelming government regulation or an inspiration to individuals and communities to find a great variety of diverse responses? And sound money – the repayment of debts run up during the covid pandemic? Yes, but who pays?
Anyone’s head throbbing from all this? Perhaps there is another way. Jesus’ debates with the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, chief priests and even the Herodians were all coloured by clear priorities and logical lines of argument. He did not rely on emotional appeals even when His parables pointed far beyond themselves and towards a deeper knowledge of God.
St Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, ‘Brethren, do not be children in your understanding; however in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.’ (1 Corinthians 14: 20) Here there is the definite sense that while worldly wisdom may be cynical and even exploitative, the wisdom of God is quite different. In this sense the letter of James says ‘But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.’ (James 3: 17).
Above all, when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus said ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22: 37). This kind of love – especially of the mind – is dedicated but not demanding. It abides, waits, finds its comfort and its direction in God. Above all, when perplexed it does not kick and scream and throw tantrums. It is a love that is secure but expectant, joyfully receiving deeper knowledge and understanding when these are given.
It is the kind of love that with Habakkuk, says ‘Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labour of the olive may fail, and fields yield no food, though the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.’ (Habakkuk 3: 17-18). (My bold type).
It is in this sense that we can approach Christmas: when we celebrate the initiative and utter self-giving love of God in the birth of Jesus. The love that offers but does not demand, that shows the better way but does not compel. The love that takes to itself the utter extremity of human sin and degradation and corruption, and yet rises from death itself.
To reduce it to sentiment and triviality is to fail to even desire to understand the dimensions of the glory of God as shown to us in the human life of Jesus.
But we can approach it with the thoughts of Job – no stranger to innocent suffering himself – who said ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom. And to depart from evil, that is understanding’ (Job 28: 28).
Every blessing this Christmastide and for the New Year.