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Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we have a hope that is stronger even than death!

December 28, 2013

Christmas is one of those times when I overindulge. There is lots of lovely food and drink at home. Not only at home but wherever I go I’m encouraged to have some more, and, you know, it would be rude to refuse! So the outcome of all of this is that I am loosing the battle of the bulge and New Year is still to come. I know all of this but there is no point in worrying. As the old saying goes, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we diet”.

We are still in the Christmas season and there is still so much to celebrate. However, the darker side to Christmas is starting to come through. The story is moving on from happy shepherds with cute lambs; the story is moving on from regal wise men with expensive gifts; and the story has taken a very dark turn indeed.

Yesterday was the feast of the Holy Innocents and today we remember the holy family fleeing from Herod. Joseph and Mary, with their toddler Jesus, become refugees in Egypt. Up until now the Christmas story has seemed a little make-believe but now it is all too real. The story does not stay in some soft focus past; the focus sharpens into an all too familiar modern tale. Look at the news reports of refugees that have fled from South Sudan, or Syria. I find it hard to look. But sometimes I am caught unawares and I look straight into the screen. I look at the faces, I see the smiles that don’t reach the eyes – eyes still wide with terror or hooded with despair; I find myself looking deeply into those eyes and realising that I could be looking into the eyes of Joseph and Mary, and the little under dressed toddler playing on the frozen mud and snow could have been Jesus 2,000 years ago.

2,000 years have passed and we as a species still haven’t been able to bin that old script.

It is horrifying to realise that we haven’t moved on as a race. But that fact accepted, it can be reassuring that God understands. The Christmas story tells us that God knows about the joy of family and babies and presents. The Christmas story also tells us that God is acutely aware of the horrors of this world. The God who came to us, knows what it is to be a refugee. The God who came to us knows about ordinary people like Herod who a happily to murder whoever gets in their way – men, women, children and even little babies.

It is reassuring that God not only understands but through his incarnation as Jesus, God has shown that he is here with us through all the horror.

But sometimes I just can’t reach the reassurance; sometimes the hope is just out of reach. I look into the eyes of pain. I know that God understands all that is wrong with the world and sometimes it is not reassuring – sometimes it just makes it worse. I see the pain in the eyes of that mother who lost her doctor son in Syria. I see good people in pain. I see children in this country unloved and in despair – starving or cutting themselves just to remind them that they are alive, just to be able to feel something or be in control.

I see and I cry; I weep. When I let myself really look then all that pain is just too much for me. I weep. I want to help but there is nothing that I can do. So I scream at God; “God do something, help them!” I weep and I lose salt and water but little else happens. Like those mothers in Bethlehem 2,000 tears ago weeping at the murder of their little children – tears fall but the world carries on regardless.

Then there is calm: I’m all cried out and the tears have stopped. I begin to see again. I see Jesus by my side. He has been holding me as I cry, and crying with me. I feel the peace descend once again. I have no logical answers. I do not know why evil continues on earth. I can read the philosophy, but in the end God’s purposes are greater than mine.

I don’t have the logical answers, but I know again the powerful love of God: I know that God is with us in our pain, suffering with us, as Jesus suffered. I know that God is with me in my pain, I know that Jesus weeps more than I ever could. I know this final part of the Christmas story, the reality of evil: I see the reality of evil then, and now. Evil is real. Evil blights people and nations – evil blights me and leads me to taste despair. I read St. Paul saying that evil even makes the whole creation groan (Romans 8.22).

I see the power of evil. Then I begin to see with Jesus’ eyes. I see evil as something whose fate is sealed. Love is at the heart of the universe, love, God’s love conquers even evil. This is of course the end of the story, the Easter story and the story of Christ’s return – the end of all evil. As the story of Jesus unfolds with the New Year I will learn again about love and evil and sacrifice. But I shouldn’t be surprised by the ending, because it’s all here in the Christmas story.

So now the tears are dried. The Christmas light is still shining, and shining brightly. I have jokes to tell and to hear. I have silly hats to wear. I have more food and drink and laughter to look forward to.

I wish you all a Happy Christmastime and a Spirit filled New year.

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we have a hope that is stronger even than death!

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