Christmas proclaims hope for our hurting world
December 2 2018Christmas confronts a tired and worried world with the challenge to hope that all we know is broken and hurt may be restored and made whole.
Our world circumstances are not so different from those of the period of Jesus’ birth. Where we have nations vying for superpower status, in the ancient world imperial Rome was the unchallenged power of all the lands around the Mediterranean Sea. Judea was a small and distant part of the Roman Empire but had shown itself to be a problem area with the uprising of the Maccabees just a generation before.
Judea was an occupied country where alliances were formed between the local elites and the Romans. What was seen as a pragmatic solution by one was sacrilege to another. Passions ran hot; many looked for the hand of God to direct the future and to vanquish the Roman invaders.
It was into this world that Jesus was born. Far from belonging to any of these ruling elites, he was born in a stable in Bethlehem, unheralded except through the miraculous revelations to the shepherds and the wise men from the East.
In a way that is hard for us to understand today, any claim of divine authority immediately came into conflict with earthly power. Where we have become used to seeing politics and religion as separate, they were so inextricably mixed in the ancient world that even an apparently benign request by King Herod for the wise men to report to him where the star had led them was recognised for what it was, a chance to find and destroy a potential rival.
The risk of detection still remained and Joseph and Mary saw no option but to take the baby Jesus and flee into the relative obscurity of exile in Egypt until the immediate threat passed. We have only the barest of details recorded in the New Testament about the early years of Jesus’ life, probably because of an intentional desire of Joseph and Mary to keep to themselves the secret of God’s purposes they knew existed for the child.
In the light of all these things, it is not surprising that Jesus’ public ministry was short, a bare three years, and that his life was ended through a sentence of execution by the authority of the Roman Governor. Even at the time his birth, the shadow of those things that would come to be known by us as the events of Easter are well and truly present.
Christians of course don’t seek to avoid the events of Easter; Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, as they provide the framework for understanding the importance of what God was doing for the world in Jesus. Understood this way, the celebration of Christmas can be a truly joyful time of hope. We can find a reassurance that God knows the troubles of the world and is so involved in finding a different way forward for us that he sent his Son to be one with us.
This understanding calls us into a much deeper experience than the simple cultural recognition of Christmas ever could. May you know the joy of hope that Christmas announces to the world.
Read more from Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Melbourne, at http://www.anglicanprimate.com.au