As I begin this reflection it is the afternoon of the last day of the year – New Year’s Eve. The world about is preparing for festivities – food, fireworks and drink. It is a festival of excess to delight the senses, if not the memory. People have been camping out at key city viewing sites since yesterday morning. Others have invested significant sums of money to secure rooms with exceptional views.
Whilst 1.5 million people are expected to ascend on ‘celebration point Ground Zero,’ many others will fill clubs or restaurants or suburban homes to see out the old and in with the New Year. It is quite an event!
I am pondering, as I sit here on this warm last day of the year: What has happened to Christmas? There is still the vestige of lights and decorations and a few left over chocolates and nibblies. There was such a build-up – ‘Love was in the air!’ There was such a hope, such an expectation, as there always is. Then, nothing. Boxing Day was the last I heard anything of Christmas in the wider world as the news reported the Christmas Messages of world leaders and other key people. Beyond that Christmas has quietly been packed away until next year.
It is always the way – Christmas assaults us on numerous levels from its commercialised significance to the pop-philosophy espoused at ‘Carols by Candlelight’ by the various media personalities vying for public attention. Christmas, with its startling stories and other-worldly connotations, excites the imagination or plain softens the harshness of the world for a bit. Its bells and ringing excite the economy and echo in cash registers. The frenzy of parties and end of year drinks, gifts and cards, cooking and shopping fills our lives and tires us needlessly as we celebrate a simple story of life, peace, hope, and joy.
Of course inflicting devastating defeats upon the Poms in cricket surpasses all else and who can miss a minute of the Sydney to Hobart? Now the endless summer of Tennis has arrived and the last cricket Test commences in a few days. The Post-Christmas sales are a frenzy of desperate greed and irrational behaviour.
My point in all of this is to say that Christmas has come and gone and the world has moved rapidly on without its deeper offerings. We have missed the point! What we yearn for is in fact before our eyes – at least in the stories that Christmas throws up to us. The peace and hope that so many yearn for, the answers to the violence and despair that rack the world lies within these stories. The sense of fairness (call it justice) and a fair go for all lies at the heart of Christmas stories but they slide ‘through to the keeper’, lost in the festivity and day-after stupor.
When all is said and done, what remains? Has the world changed through the wonder of Christmas? The radio today bleated on about how Australia is losing its religion and fewer believe than once did. If so, then why is Christmas held up so high? Why do we dare celebrate the birth of Jesus, even if his name is somewhat lost or we cover it all over with tinsel and lights? Everywhere I look through the pre-Christmas season there is a sense of longing. In the despair of the same old news stories there is a longing for a new narrative. When political leaders of all colours bleat and rabbit on there is a longing for something new and bold and right and true – something different that we can trust. There is a longing in the human heart that rises at Christmas and falls just as quickly when Christmas passes by leaving us empty (well full of food and drink but empty in our spirit).
It isn’t too late, however. If you missed the lead up to Christmas and exhortations to stop and find a moment to reflect and ponder the mystery of God, there is still time. We are still in the season of Christmas and the story continues. This week 2 Gospel accounts converge over a couple of days. Sunday’s Gospel is from John 1:1-18 and presents a broad overture to his story of Jesus. It is about light and darkness in life and the world. He speaks of God’s Light emerging through the darkness of the world in Jesus’ life and teaching. The invitation to open ourselves to light and hope is compelling and in our weariest moments something we may contemplate. When all is going well and life is busy and exciting we ignore the inner tensions of our lives and pursue that which is predicated by the world around.
The second reading is set aside for the festival of Epiphany, the end of the season of Christmas and the day when we celebrate the manifestation or revelation of God, especially in Jesus. It is the familiar story of the Magi (Wise Men) coming from afar to worship the new-born king. In real terms this has been described as an ‘A-ha’ moment when our eyes and understanding are opened to something deeper.
This story is part of the overture to Matthew’s Gospel and contains elements of traditional Hebrew writings and the stories of the ancestry of Caesar Augustus. Matthew subtly contrasts the power of Rome and the power of God’s Reign. Herod wants to be King of the Jews but these pagan kings from afar come to worship a new king born to be King of the Jews – Jesus.
In this story of dreams and journey, of curiosity and faith, of searching, longing and finding, we are challenged with the questions of our own lives. Will we believe enough in the glimpses of God’s Reign, of love, justice and hope to follow? Do we have the courage to leave the secure, familiar place and journey into the unknown seeking the light that will reveal the deeper truths of life? Finding this light, will we stop to worship, to embrace into our own being this new and marvellous way? Will we embrace a new life even if it means ‘business as usual’ is set aside and a new list of priorities is written in our lives? The way of Jesus, as I’ve often suggested is not for the faint-hearted. It takes courage and determination and it requires depth of spirit. We cannot walk the counter-way of Jesus without drawing deeply from the Spirit’s life-giving nourishment. We need to go deep within ourselves in order to live deeply in the world of our lives.
The yearning of our spirits is a yearning for a deeper life in God – this is not to be confused with believing things about God but living quietly and deeply in the presence of God. In this season of light and ‘A-ha’ moments we encounter many disguises of God in the ordinary and mysterious moments of our lives.