A few weeks back I was talking with some friends about Christmas and expressed my feelings that the birth of a child, especially when we can make a choice over having children, is a declaration of hope: a hope that the world has something to offer that child; a hope that that the child will grow and be happy and enjoy a good life.
Given the world that we have lived in for the past century, which has included 2 World Wars, a Cold War, global poverty, natural disasters and Climate Change thinking of the birth of a child as an expression of hope is even more poignant.
During the week I was privileged to read a part of President Barak Obama’s speech (here) in response to the tragic shooting in America. Let me share a part of what he said with you:
With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them.I believe President Obama has made some very insightful comments in this speech but I think one of the most interesting is his reflection that “we... know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us.”
They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can’t do this by ourselves.
It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbours, the help of a community and the help of a nation.
And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.
Here President Obama I believe taps into a fundamental truth of human community which sits in tension with the way God actually made us to live. Whilst we should grow into people who are able to be self-reliant and resilient, this growth is not meant to be a growth which separates us from one another, or to the independence which breeds the individualism rampant in our Western way of life but rather we are to grow into communion with one another as people, as God’s people.
I use the word communion here deliberately because if we trace it back to the Greek word koinonia it implies a life lived in one another’s lives, a life lived reflecting the inner life of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. President Obama I believe reflects this fundamental truth as he says, “we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.” This is essentially what is said every time we have a baptism.
The sad reality, though, as we know that there is a gap between our human experiences of this life together, to which God calls and that we are even aware of and how we live. Whether we experience the subtle tension of people we do not agree with or whether we experience the deep brokenness and suffering which afflicts so many, and often due to the way in which the powers and systems that we have place operate.
It is this dissonance of our imperfect lives which leads not into communion but independence which reflects not simply a movement away from God but from also each other.
God’s response to this situation is celebrated today.
Just as he birth of any child is a sign of hope in a broken world, so too the birth of Jesus is a sign of hope for the entire world.
The passage that I recited from John’s gospel has long been my favourite of the Christmas readings. John gets to the point “the Word became flesh”: the eternal “Word”, whom we know as Jesus. He breaks into our reality even though all things came into being him through but did not know him, and even though his own people did not accept him.
We know that the rejection of Jesus leads to the cross, ultimately a sign of the failure of humanity to love God and love one another. But the hope that we see and know and feel in Jesus birth and life and death is amplified by the resurrection in which God says your rejection of me does not count as the last word
In the birth of Jesus is the hope of the world because from his death God brings new life. Hope which transcends our personal hopes and fears in life and gives confidence to see the birth of each child as an affirmation that God is, the god lives, and the life in all fullness can be ours because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
I pray that you may know the depth of hope that comes from the birth of this child who stands as our corrective and as reminder that God’s love is bigger than our inability to live perfectly loving one another.
May God bless you all this Christmas.
(Photo Creative Commons by "Kudaker")