New Year’s Eve looms large on the landscape. The Sydney to Hobart has been raced and won (a record line honours, along with protests, reviews…). England has improved their game over Christmas and is looking good for the 4th test. The Boxing Day (and beyond) sales are in full swing with shopkeepers hoping for record sales to improve their bottom line across the year. There are tragic accidents on our roads and along the coastline. It is hot, humid and most people are tired, overfed and thinking about resolutions – and more parties.
Christmas, it seems, has passed us by, lost amidst the ordinary things of life with its routines or new expectations. Christmas that promises so much delivers so little in most people’s lives. Families gather and mostly communicate well but many, fuelled by too much grog, fight and argue. It’s strange how this story of love and hope, peace and joy fails to touch the deeper life of the world. It’s strange how this season that inspires Carols by Candlelight extravaganzas and festivities beyond the realm of normal life, along with spending measured in $billions, feels so superficial – it is like Teflon as it sails through without gaining much traction in ordinary human life. The hope fades, along with the good cheer that passes as joy or even love and peace. There is some sense of tranquillity in the post-Christmas haze of lying around doing little beyond eating more food, watching sport or reruns of ordinary movies on tellie or reading a new book.
So we quickly move onto New Year’s Eve in the futile hope that the new year will bring everything we hoped for in the old one – and more. The tough stuff of 2017 can be left behind and a new year, with new possibilities embraced until normal programming resumes and we realise that life is life is life and little changes. Well everything changes and all the time but in essence life rolls onward and we feel the same as the same old pressures and hopes stir within us. We hope and yearn and hunger sometimes consciously and mostly these things hum along in the background of life and living in the subconscious realm. Many have given up on hope and feel a lot better for it – if you expect nothing then you aren’t disappointed when it turns up – anything more is bonus.
I read the papers or listen to the radio news and watch bits of the nightly news. Nothing much changes in the scheme of things. That’s my problem!! Nothing changes and I want change – not the flow of technology that outdates my computer in 5 minutes or the latest version of social media. There is constantly something to entertain or distract me, something that will grab my attention and keep me amused for a day or two – minus a few dollars! Then there will be something else, more superficial nonsense that passes for ideas and something meaningful.
So I wait and I watch, I hope and I trust. You see I am expecting the world to be transformed, changed, turned upside down and inside out because THAT is what I hear and see in the Christmas stories and in the person of Jesus. Sure I am idealistic and some suggest I don’t live in the real world where money talks and is power and power is control over everything. In the real world the ‘rich get richer and the poor get the picture’ as one of the memorable lines from Midnight Oil suggests. In the real world politics is about a party and supporting left or right (or right and further right) and politics and faith should never mix. In this world that seems to be thrust upon me and you and everyone else, marketers, that clever breed, create the needs and sell us answers and it all feels like smoke and mirrors but like any good magic trick I can’t see how they do it – it looks real. The high priests who serve ‘The Market’ spin all manner of belief and doctrine and give voice to what is ‘true or right’ in the world. They assure me that the economy must be served and followed and trusted because life comes from money and finance and there lies our hope. Lower taxes for the rich and trickle-down economics will bring relief to the poor and hope to the world – but we wait and wait and wait. It never comes and won’t!
In the midst of this existential angst we find ourselves in, a story emerges from the sacred texts of the Christmas stories. Moving on from shepherds and angels, stars and mangers, lowing cattle (not actually mentioned in the story but too cute to leave out) and all the rest is a simple tale (Luke 2:22-40) of the couple going to the Temple to dedicate their child and offer sacrifice for purification, all part of their ancient Jewish faith. In the Temple they encounter two elderly people, Simeon and Anna. Both have been waiting and waiting. They have been waiting for the promised fulfilment of God. They are waiting for that which will bring change, renewal and turn the world upside down. Simeon is looking for the consolation, peace and salvation of Israel. He is waiting for change in the world and he expects it in this one who was born. He has seen and heard of the oppression of empires that have dominated Israel for 500 year. He yearns for the way of God as revealed in the law and prophets. Anna has lived in the Temple courts for many years. She is called a prophet and is waiting for the redemption of Israel, the transformation of the world.
Whilst the powerful of the world pull the strings and people fall into line either willingly or from fear, Simeon and Anna represent those who yearn for God’s peace and hope to come. They sing the songs of the prophets and ancient leaders of Israel under God. They sing songs of peace, justice, hope, joy and life for all people. They sing for the poor and lowly, the outcast and refugee, the stranger and friend. They sing for those who are trampled underfoot and those who do the trampling because everyone needs this salvation that promises enriched and deep life. After all, doesn’t Christmas feel simple and kind once the work is done and the rush is over and we sit and eat, talk and laugh together around a shared table?
Perhaps the magic, the promise, the reality of Christmas lies in the simple truths we miss – that life isn’t about accumulation and power, about prestige or keeping up. Life is about relationships and living together, sharing food, belonging to the tribe – as long as the tribe isn’t exclusive, defending its turf with violence and hatred. Christmas brings us together around colour and song, food and conversation. Surely the hope is that God is in this simple reality, the presence of the Divine is in the midst of relationships. God is in the spaces between us, around us and through us. God is in the beautiful orchid that emerged from its shoots yesterday. God is in the puppy that jumps around under the sprinkler then comes up to nudge me and give me a lick or reassurance and affection. God is in the midst of the food and the delight and the joy that rings out but we are looking for something else and miss it. Jesus born and lived teaches us about love for God and each other and for the world. That is what will change everything!!