A Star Worth Following
If William Shakespeare were alive today his pen would be burning a hole in his manuscript, such has been the volume of material available to him for multiple new plays. If drama, pathos, intrigue, conspiracy, false truth are the staple resources for a great script writer, 2020 has been the greatest of all years to be alive. On a planet in our galaxy the year has ended with the pathetic spectre, more tortured than any caricature could imagine, of a beaten and pathetic president fawning over sycophantic conspiracy theorists who help him keep his world of unreality alive. Pain in the loss of power and visibility is obviously impossible to bear.
On the other hand, on the planet we all call home, we have thousands upon thousands of women and men, scientists, health workers, doctors, carers, drivers, shop assistants, who without power, prestige, visibility, or adequate reward have striven to keep us together, healthy, and alive. The contrast could not be starker.
2000 years ago, the calm enjoyed by shepherds tending their sheep in a field on the edge of a little mid-eastern village was frighteningly disturbed by a strange light and presence. They had become involuntary witnesses to an unfolding drama which would reveal how wrong the world was then, and is now, about the true nature of power and citizenship. The unfolding story would challenge the meaning of governance, the meaning of leadership, indeed the meaning and destiny of life itself.
The recording of this story in the pages of scripture remind the reader that a thousand years earlier, a famous and charismatic leader (David) had sought to cement his legacy in the construction of a physical temple to house the presence of God. He was forbidden and told through his prophet Nathan that this was not to be his legacy, rather God would provide him with the legacy of a household whose membership would be embraced and transformed by the God he had wished to house.
Then came a carpenter and pregnant partner to Bethlehem in obedience to citizenship’s demand that they be counted in a census.
The shepherds witnessed the no vacancy sign, the baby, the stable, the inauspicious beginning. They witnessed in embryo what the early Christians were later to reflect upon as life-giving paradox. Vulnerability is strength. Service is power. Generosity is wealth. Hospitality is inclusion with the power to abolish rivalry and violence.
The shepherds were to hear the message from angel voices. But the message was destined to become incarnate in a person. In Jesus, the message and the messenger are the same. To embrace the message is to embrace the messenger and to experience the promised hope joy and peace. What takes life and form inside one’s very being becomes life giving and transformative, what can never be more than an external adornment remains ephemeral and falsely seductive.
And yet. And yet…………………. We humans are strangely resistant to inner life and would prefer to chase after that which can never fully satisfy, in the process continuing to cause damage not simply to ourselves but to others and the world.
Perhaps the year of Covid will prove, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been the reality check we in the consumer orientated Western world have needed. It has always been a mistake to measure “progress” solely in materialistic, technological, economic, digital terms. What the year has shown is that community, friendship, intimacy, family, are always more important than the endeavours to which we usually commit most of our energy and priority. True progress is always an internal not an external matter. More sober judgement will tell that the behaviour of many world leaders and captains of industry and media, in 2020, has been no different to the scandalous emperors of Rome in Jesus time, or European leaders of the Middle Ages. It is just that sophistication camouflages the reality that we have not progressed a jot.
The headline in the opinion piece for Christmas Eve in the Australian was headed: Faithful haunted by quest for meaning. No, they are not! The reverse is almost certainly the truth. The world is (or should be) haunted by the reality that avoiding the truth revealed in the birth of Jesus is to condemn humanity to constantly repeating its history of mistakes, notwithstanding technological sophistication.
We are not born to triumph over others, but to serve them. As Desmond Tutu says, it is the strong who apologise, the weak do not. Believing we are members of the same family under God, we should seek alliances and cooperation, always breaking down barriers, never afraid to take the lowest place. Not much sign of this in Trump’s “America first”, Johnson’s “Brexit”, Xi’s dominance through “Belt and Road”, or Morrison’s “Australia will not be dictated to”.
In the birth of Jesus profound and eternal truth is made known. Embracing this truth has the capacity to transform the world in which we live. Ignoring this truth is to condemn us to perpetuating the same.
Unto us a child is born
Unto us a Son is given.
And the government shall be upon his shoulder
He will be called wonderful counsellor
Prince of Peace