We have seen again so many events on our global community which have left us wondering at times where it is all heading. We have also no doubt experienced in our own families the invariable ups and downs of health and sickness, times of tension and worry, death and grief, celebrations and times of change and transition.
We have had an odd year. With Emma’s move to Melbourne for study and the chapter and verse of that new journey for her. Family celebrations and family funerals which tell us boldly that time stands still for no-one and the unknown is only a phone call away. The world of business where we see each day the various levels and at times tangible real poverty as good people strive to make ends meet and keep their often fragile and often fragmented families together. The many single people who are broken with only the day-to-day round of bills, milk and bread, money to pay public housing rent and the long what for hospital visits. Our daily brief encounter with them is only a moment in time where all we can do is give conversation and a sense of respect that we are their equal. In and through it all, we generally see the churches and our politicians as being so out of touch with what is really happening in the streets and lanes where the daily grind of trying to make each day count for something can prove a real effort.
But do you know what? Even the picture on our Christmas cards are only moments in time. If we could see past the edges, we would probably see some pretty familiar sights. I have one card of a cosy little cabin snuggled in some snowy woods, with one set of tire tracks running up to the door—but I bet the lot next door has been clear-cut to make way for a subdivision, and that there is at least one out building falling down way back in the paddock!
The story, we know it by heart—how the whole town was clogged with travellers, none of whom was there by choice. The emperor wanted them all counted and taxed and he could have cared less where they slept. That was their problem, not his….Joseph and Mary got a stall instead of a room, which was not as bad as we sometimes make it out to be, but still, not an ideal situation. We know they got a feed trough, because that was where they laid their treasure, and that is when the picture was taken—right then, while the star was still overhead and the angels were still singing in the rafters.
But twenty minutes later, what? The hole in the heavens had closed up and the only music came from the bar at the inn… As she leaned over to pick him up, Mary started crying too and when Joseph tried to comfort her she told him she wanted her mother. If she had just married a nice boy from Nazareth, she said, she would be back home where she belonged instead of competing with sheep for a place to sleep.
Then she said she was sorry and Joseph said not to think another thing about it. He meant it, too. They both hurt all over and there was nothing to eat and it was cold as the dickens, but you know what? God was still there, right in the middle of the picture. Peace was there, and joy, and love—not only in the best of times but also and especially in the worst of times—because during those times there could be no mistake about who was responsible.
It was God-With-Us. Not the God-Up-There somewhere who ‘responds’ to our prayers by lifting us out of our lives, but the God who comes to us in the midst of them—however far from home we are, however less than ideal our circumstances, however much or little our lives reflect the Christmas cards we send. That is where God is born, just there, in any cradle we will offer him, on any pile of straw we will pat together with our hands….
The daily test to keep hope alive is the ever anew challenge to stop and stare into the crib, gazing and remembering why it is that we are here at all!!
To remember and to live fully as fully as we are able, to love extravagantly without measure or pettiness and become all that we are created to be and to answer the living question inside each of us: What is that we are going to leave behind with our one and only life? How will we be remembered? - while knowing at all times that the Holy One of the far-flung stars and planets holds us in the palm of life’s hand.
In these brief moments of time, may you sense peace, joy, hope and love surround you like the canvas of bright stars in the night sky… Stephen