Christmas Day B, 2005
THE POWER AND GIFT OF HOPE IN OUR LIVES
So captivating is the Festival of Christmas, the ancients told stories
of how cattle in stables fell to their knees at midnight,
birds sang all night long,
and trees and plants, especially those along the Jordan River,
bowed in reverence toward Bethlehem.
And on Christmas Eve, the water in wells and fountains
was said to be blessed by God with healing powers.
And mysterious bells chimed joyfully in the depths of mines,
while cheerful lights could be seen in caves.
Such is the power on this day of hope.
One of the seasonal stories which is my favourite is the Mexican legend
of the Christmas flower, the poinsettia,
with its beautiful, red star-shape.
The story tells of Maria and her little brother Pablo.
They were very poor but they always looked forward
to the Christmas festival.
Each year a large manger scene was set up in the village church,
and the days before Christmas
were filled with parades and parties.
The two children loved Christmas but always felt a bit left out
because they had no money to buy presents.
They especially wished they could give something
to the church for Baby Jesus. But they had nothing to give.
One Christmas Eve, Maria and Pablo set out for church to attend the service.
On their way they picked some weeds growing along the roadside
and decided to take them as their gift to the Baby Jesus in the manger scene.
Other children teased them and jeered at them
when they arrived with their gift.
But nonetheless they began placing the green plants
all around the manger.
Miraculously, the green top leaves immediately turned into bright red petals,
and soon the manger was surrounded
by the beautiful star-like flowers which we see today.
And for those two children, disappointment was transformed into joy and hope.
There's a huge amount of hope surrounding our meanings
given to the Christmas story – the Lucan Christmas story, that is.
Take babies, for instance.
A tiny, new born baby is the embodiment of hope.
Within that tiny frame, is unlimited potential.
That baby could become prime minister, or
pope (oops, but not my grand-daughter – wrong gender it seems!), or a
professor, or a
When babies are born, most new parents have huge hopes,
and tend to picture the future for their new born offspring
in glowing terms.
But it doesn't always work out quite like that.
Sometimes the hopes are dashed at a very early stage,
especially if the baby cries and cries and cries throughout the night!
Sometimes the hopes seem dashed a little later,
if perhaps the baby turns out to be differently abled
than other children of the same age.
Sometimes the hopes continue right up until adolescence,
but then they may be dashed, when the teenager
suddenly comes home with earrings or tattoos in strange places,
or decides on a whim to drop out of university.
From what little there is in our religious tradition,
some reckon it was much the same for the so-called ‘Holy family’.
There they were with the new born Jesus...
But within a few days of birth, tradition says, Joseph was warned in a dream
to get out of Bethlehem as quickly as he could.
Within a few days of birth, tradition says, the family
was on the run, hunted by armed soldiers and another’s love of power.
Already their hopes were beginning to be dashed.
And Mary and Joseph's son Jesus didn't really grow up as they might have wished.
He became an odd-jobs bloke like his dad, but didn't stick at it.
He dropped out.
He threw away what some saw as 'security', to scratch out an existence
depending on other people's handouts as a wandering sage and teacher.
For him, a community of the whole of humankind
displaced the narrow exclusivism of trade or tribal loyalties.
And he did not remain silent when he saw others
confronted with the unbearable.
For this and more, he became unpopular with the authorities
and considered to be a glutton, blasphemous and dangerous.
A person of middle eastern appearance!
A risk to national security!
Eventually, so the story goes, his mother had to endure the agony
of watching her first-born son, that tiny baby who had shown such potential...
executed as a political criminal. A threat to the Empire.
Life is never lived on a high all the time.
Pain and tragedy and disappointment, from time to time,
are part of the human lot.
But both a rugged hope and love grows through all of that.
And when that incognito creativity we call God,
comes to wonderful expression in us,
hope always springs out of the pain
and disappointments of life.
When a person feels like a child again as she hears the wind in both ears…
When a person is moved by something…
When a person does not shy away from a dream
or an aspiration for fear of failure… then hope is reborn.
When a person realises that peace at home and peace on earth
are not contingent upon uniformity,
that full and worthy participants in society include
anglo-celtic and middle eastern appearance,
gay or lesbian and straight,
young and old,
female and male... then hope is reborn.
When every story of new born life is revered, and when every night
a child is born, is hailed... then hope is reborn.
That promise of hope is gathered up and presented to us
at this time of the year in the symbolic gift of a baby at Christmas.
And that hope is still alive today, and available to anyone in any situation.
So when we look at a new born baby, born at Christmas
or born at any time, don't just see a baby.
See too the power of love and the rugged hope present
with almost unbelievable power,
in all our lives today.