A baby come to be the Saviour of the world. This is weird, a way to put the world straight which is either breath-taking in its naivety or profoundly wrong-footing the powers that be.
At the first nativity, Israel was gripped by a face-off between the powers of Herod, religious institutions and Roman empire. This gridlock was further entrenched by internal divisions between these conflicting groups. All the nativity characters were in the sway of these battling players.
One thing was for sure, the power struggle between Herod, religious authority and Rome wasn’t going to beat swords into ploughs, nor going to enable everyone to sit in their own space without fear – to paraphrase Micah 4: 3,4. Indeed the actions of these people would only make matters worse.
Race forward a couple of thousand years and the powers that be in 2018 are in a similar gridlock, riven by internal division and seeking to secure their position rather than grasp the common good.
It could be argued that the political parties and structures today started with a noble intent for justice, improvement and opportunity which they have lost the ability to pursue. So, whilst challenges and opportunities of the environment, care for an ageing population, technological innovation, developing education to equip our young people await attention our politicians are fighting blow by blow to exhaustion over Brexit and businesses are producing winter results showing declining Christmas trading. Then in a few days as the seasonal holiday comes, senior religious leaders will speak messages of peace and goodwill which seem like nice thoughts in a festive bubble. But the vital connections don’t seem to be made.
Maybe we need a radically alternative that is indeed breath-taking in its naivety and profound in wrong-footing power.
Back at the first Christmas it seemed that God was saying that the institutions of monarchy, state and religion were unable to meet the challenge and so nothing short of the personal act of God from the bottom up would bring the transformation, heart change and new order.
It seems that then as now the great powers were casting long shadows rather than light. Then and now a new order was needed. Into that comes the raw vulnerability of the Christ child, gifted with gold, frankincense and myrrh with all their meaning, destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many. God’s act of hope in those precarious times came to pastoral farm workers, working northern families and Persian magicians, which would be taken up by fishermen, tax officials, revolutionaries and one or two scholars.
The outbreak of hope cut across cultural and social boundaries and it blossomed in homes, streets, hillsides, lakesides and meeting halls. Then in flowed unstoppably into the corridors of power. And all these connections began with a personal encounter with Jesus and an intentional commitment to his message. Then and now this is hope in precarious times.
Similar connections are being made today not in parliamentary chambers or quarterly business statements but in classrooms, streets, homes and around meal tables.
So in this brutal and brilliant world there are two Christian messages:
Firstly, that the powers of religion, state and multinationals cannot bring light in darkness. These powers shouldn’t be thrown away but reordered and recover why there are here in the first place. We need new connections.
Secondly, that the crucial connection that makes all else possible is with Jesus Christ.
This is hope in precarious times – that God has done something different and that we can break the cycle.
Graham Brownlee, December 2018