The Christmas season, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world, gives us pause. We contemplate the gift of a Saviour, born into a troubled world, under the oppressive imperial rule of Rome at the time. Today, we remember the birth of Christ in our equally fragmented world. The 2016 Christmas season concludes a year marked by a world in turmoil, dislocation, and pain from strained human relationships. The spike in hate crimes, racial tension, and fear of the ‘other’ make the plight of refugees, asylum seekers, the religiously different ever so precarious in our world today.
In such a context, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie counsels, ‘Now is the time to talk about what we are actually talking about’. The rise of vitriolic denial of the humanity of the ‘other’ in the name of religion; or divisive social, economic or political rhetoric that is gradually gaining political legitimacy, challenges us have the talk and candidly name the marginalising experiences of so many. These are our sisters and brothers in Yemen or Syria starving to death or entombed under rubble along with their innocent children; they are the Rohingya of Myanmar trapped in a silent genocide; they are the one billion people who live in extreme poverty in a time when the global potential to end poverty has never been greater; and they are those who struggle daily with disabilities in a world not prepared to harbour them.
And yet the God who sent Christ at Christmas, sends us, to relive the liberating message of hope, in such a context, declaring God’s glory and peace on earth. As we mark the season with festivities and merriment, and rightly so, going about decorating our Christmas trees, bringing joy and laughter to the children in our care, and a kind word of hope and peace to a stranger, let this season give us pause to ponder the meaning of Christmas. The Christmas stories we tell of Jesus’ birth in a stable; the weary shepherds receiving the good news of his birth; the wise men travelling instinctively to pay him homage, remind us of God’s love in Christ that makes room for the stranger and enemy and challenges the marginalising effects of injustice.
The message of Christmas is a message of hope – an invitation to a new life of justice in relationships so that all life may flourish. It is a radical message of defiant hope that challenges us towards transformative action in the world so loved by God. It is the conviction that renewal is possible, and the unwillingness to accept defeat in the midst of the abundance of bad news that plague our contexts. Our context is a world gone mad with a strange kind of welfare at whose frontline and targets are unsuspecting civilians as witnessed in Baghdad, Dhaka, Paris and Berlin, to name a few; or such as the murders of racially profiled civilians at the hands of law enforcement officers in the USA. Despite all this, the Christmas message summons us to hope. Like Jacob, we are urged to wrestle with God until the blessing of transformation comes. To the fear-stricken shepherds, the angels said, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:10).
Hope is the gift of God. God meets us in the night-time of our fears and insecurities; and beckons us to look in unexpected places where the Spirit is already at work for the possibility of hope and healing. The news of the birth of the messiah urges us to bold. “Do not be afraid”, even when our actions seem feeble and hope seems to wane. Do not be afraid for “I bring you good news that will cause great joy…today, in the city of David, a Saviour is born…you will find him wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12).
Christmas greets us with the message of hope in a broken world. Hope is a signpost of grace in a sinful world; it is no thin optimism. Hope is a marker of Christian faith; it is how we learn to be persistent in resisting the evil and brokenness around us even when our efforts are seemingly feeble and easily thwarted. In our human finitude, we sometimes experience hope as “fragile” (Alan Boesak) such times when hope wanes; when we no longer know what to hold on to; because the fractured world forcefully confronts us and challenges our best resolve. Such are the times when even the lights of Christmas, though a delight to many, are a terror for some. And yet we continue to hope because hope is God’s gift in the midst of brokenness and fragility.
This Christmas season, we pause and ponder the miracle of God’s gift of hope, and we pray, Spirit of God, lead us to name the brokenness we see and experience around us, in our world. Help us to claim your gift of hope and commit to hopeful action that leads to healing.
‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:6).”
Rev Dr Collin I Cowan, General Secretary