In writing this we are looking forward to Advent and Christmas, writes Rev Sydney Maitland, when we celebrate God’s action in entering the human race, first of all as a baby, but later to be seen as the Messiah, the Anointed One, Prince of Peace, saviour of the world.
But the present time is very uncertain. Doubts within as we still confront and manage the Coronavirus pandemic, and look for ways to manage the assorted demands of social, national, racial, gender and cultural identities. Meanwhile there are threats to international peace in the Persian Gulf, the South and East China Seas, and on the borders of Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic republics. This is not a settled time, certainly not one when we may divert ourselves with entertaining discussions on morality or even theology.
Part of the question we face is just who does reign? Is it those with the greatest military force? The most reliable legal and political systems? The strongest convictions of who and what they are? Our society runs as a series of compromises between competing interests and especially those with the best access to opinion-forming media, and the ability to present themselves in the most favourable (or persuasive?) light. This is the culture of expediency in which decisions are made less on conviction than on the line of least resistance.
And it is not a happy place. As we face the Christmas mystery, we can do it in one of two ways. The first is to immerse ourselves in the warm emotions of family re-gatherings, the comfort of the traditional Christmas story, the enveloping security of the Christmas carols and season of peace and goodwill.
But there is another way of looking at it. This comes from the same Christmas story, but looks at it differently. The edict from an emperor far away for an administrative upheaval in the form of a census which required people all over the empire to uproot themselves and go to some centre of registration. Then there is the homicidal over-reaction of the local warlord (well, king, if you insist) when personally thwarted. The flight into a strange land of the holy family and their life there are refugees. These were not comfortable circumstances and Mary and Joseph had to deal with things as they found them, coping as best they could. Yet in the midst of all this there was God made flesh, a baby and then an infant, personally vulnerable and dependent on the ability of others to provide for and to protect Him.
Part of the Christmas mystery is that God has placed Himself among us and made Himself dependent on us, to receive and honour Him or to despise, reject, ridicule and abuse Him as the mood of the moment moves us. In that sense our observation of Christmas is a mirror of our own sense of being. It can be our personal and family time, in which God is a sort of decorative wrapping – or it can be something of God, centred on Him and drawing strength and inspiration from Him.
We can read the lessons of Christmas as something poetic and atmospheric but not really meaningful to us personally – or we can read them, receive them, honour and respect them as they speak into our own lives and situations.
What about “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” or “His Name is Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. Then there is “and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
As we reflect on the birth of Jesus so we are also led to reflect on our own spiritual beginnings and the personal journey that they have led us into. We have not arrived but are all on the same journey, even when we are at different stages of it. Yet the Lord who leads us is also the same Lord who has been vulnerable, dependent and at risk of His life. But this is the same Lord who we are trusting in the uncertain times of 2021 and 2022. He will never fail us or forsake us, and we are promised that “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8: 28)
Every blessing this Advent and Christmastide.