Thoughts on present, and being present...
2017 has been a very hard year for me, and I’ve spent many nights glued to the news on YouTube. Every time I see ‘Breaking News’ appear on Facebook, it feels as if another piece of the world is breaking.
In the UK, we’ve had terrorist attacks in Westminster, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Borough Market, as well as the Grenfell Tower Fire. Universal credit is already being cut, and all the while Brexit hangs over us all like a shadow – or a shroud.
However the rest of the world has been hit badly too, and everywhere there is fear and tension. There have been terrorist attacks in Barcelona, New York, St. Petersburg, Baghdad, Kabul, Mogadishu, Damascus, Gao in Mali, Sehwan in Pakistan. In Egypt alone there were a number of attacks in the Sinai Peninsula and bombings on Palm Sunday attacked churches in Alexandria and Tanta.
There have been ongoing wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
There is major unrest in Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia and Venezuela.
In Myanmar, the Rohingyas are being persecuted.
In the USA, there’s President Donald Trump, Charlottesville, Roy More, #MeToo and serious threats of nuclear war with North Korea,
The record for the deadliest mass shooting in US history was broken in Las Vegas, Nevada, where 58 people died and hundreds were injured. This broke the record set last year by the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people died. Another mass shooting in 2017 happened in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 27 people died, which currently ranks as the fifth most deadliest mass shooting.
Storms have raged across the Caribbean this year, with multiple category 5 hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria, flattening Dominica, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, the US and British Virgin Islands, parts of the Bahamas, Anguilla and St Barthelemy, and causing major damage to cities in the USA, particularly Houston.
Look at any of these stories and you might feel hopeless and boxed-in...
But there is a hope. A present hope...
This is message of Christmas, a gift of hope
A sign of light in dark times.
The political climate in surrounding the birth of Jesus was tense.
Israelites were living under Roman occupation... hopeless. Many wanted a liberator – a Messiah – who would free them from the yoke of Roman oppression.
Mary was a teenage girl who was engaged, but still unmarried when she became pregnant. She could have easily been accused of adultery and stoned to death as punishment. Only the actions of Joseph, her new husband, saved her from this fate...
Roman bureaucracy forced Mary and her husband Joseph to travel south to Bethlehem, on bumpy roads. As a pregnant woman riding on a donkey, Mary’s progress was slow and she would have been an easy target for bandits...
In Bethlehem, with all the inns full and no close relatives to turn to, Mary and Joseph were forced to stay with the animals in a grotty stable. Even by the standards of the time, this was not a good place to give birth, and childbirth was very dangerous. With no trained midwife around, Joseph may have had to deliver the baby himself...
King Herod was a puppet ruler, propped up by the Romans to enforce order. Paranoid that he would be overthrown, he executed several members of his own family, including his wife Mariamne. When three scholars told him that they had seen a sign that a new, powerful King would be born in Bethlehem, Herod feared for his throne and ordered the massacre of all baby boys under two years old. Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus were able to escape, but they were forced to flee for their lives and live in Egypt until Herod died.
At the time of his birth, Jesus was:
Surrounded by the poor and by foreigners
This story, for all of its darkness, is seen as a good thing. It is a gift; a present for us in the present, the hope of a better future to come, both in this life, and beyond... As such, the Nativity tableau, seen in thousands of different forms, is a moment frozen in time, but it’s a moment of light that blazes in the darkness that surrounds it.
The shepherds, the first people to visit the newborn child, were poor and isolated from society for most of the time, tending to their sheep. They had nothing to give the baby Jesus but themselves. They had no presents, but they were present.
The message of Christmas allows us to break out of the boxes that surround us and be filled with the gift of life...
The gift of a future and a hope, a present hope...
The gift of unconditional, relentless love which knows no bounds, and a peace which passes all understanding, no matter what our struggles are...
To me this, is what Jesus represents in this story – when all around seemed dark and desperate, light came into the world – a Messiah.
I present a hope, a present for the dark days ahead, that this too shall pass. In the darkest part of the year, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, only a few days after Midwinter, when the hours of daylight slowly begin to grow again – and in the far north, light creeps back slowly, slowly, into the darkness that surrounds the North Pole all winter – providing light, burning in the darkness like a candle – its light showing the way forward while the heat drives away the cold.
Sometimes we have nothing to give but ourselves.
The greatest gifts cannot be bought or sold. These are not worthless, but priceless.
Hope can be found in all kinds of places, if you know where to look.
You may also be the hope that someone is looking for. You just need to be present.