Wherever we look in the world at the moment, things seem to be either falling or breaking apart. Whenever we watch, listen to or read the news, we are continually being confronted by angry voices. Fingers of blame are being pointed everywhere and in all directions. Overly-simplistic answers and so- lutions are being proffered to really complex questions and problems - and people are buying them. It is all deeply troubling, not least because, as the human race, we’ve been here before - and the last time we were "here" it didn’t end well.
I mention this not to scaremonger or to make you more fearful but because throughout Advent, we are reminded of the need to remain vigilant and to be alert, alive and awake to those events taking place around us. We need to be so, our scriptures tell us, lest we miss seeing those signs that point to God breaking into the world and acting within it today.
If we believe that there is no real need to heed such a call because, year after year, we receive the same message and nothing new or different ever happens, those same scriptures also proclaim that we've been "here" before too - and that then, in the unlikeliest of times and places, God did indeed act. Such a message demands that we do not let ourselves give in to despair. There is always hope.
Every Christmas we celebrate a child being born among us and, as we do so, we talk about life and love, of course, but also of smallness and vulnerability, of humility and fragility. It is vital that we do this. Focussing on such aspects of the Jesus story teaches us some important things about God - about who God is and how God works - and it shows us something about how and where God enters our world and our lives.
We cannot afford to leave the story there though, however warm the glow we feel emanating from the stable scene. We cannot afford to leave Jesus - nor our expectations of him - forever bound in swaddling bands and lying in a manger, assuming that all that he asks of us is to bow down and worship. That child grew up and we must too. As we remember Jesus' coming into the world, we also - and urgently - need to recall the message that he came with, a message that he identified with what he called the coming of "the reign of God” or the “kingdom of God".
In Jesus' teachings on "the kingdom" we find the anticipation of the coming of an altogether better, fairer and more just world at some point in the future. We also find a call to action in the present. Whenever Jesus talks about the kingdom, the language of challenge and cost is never too far away from his lips. The implication is always that, as his followers, we each have a part to play in the transformation of this all-too-often-troubling world of ours. The change we most desire and seek may well need to be brought to birth in us and through us.
Let us hope and pray then that we can all make the most of this time of preparation that Advent affords and, in doing so, not only hone and revise our expectations but also raise them. As we celebrate Christmas, may we commit ourselves afresh to building a more loving, inclusive, compassionate and caring society and world.
Wishing you a joyful and peaceful Christmas