Joy sums up much of what we claim about Christmas. In our first reading we heard the prophet Isaiah describe the yearning of his people for a new King to succeed King Ahaz; a king who would bring abundant joy in their troubled time, who would give them cause to rejoice. Isaiah goes on, as if in a trance, detailing how that King might be: wonder-counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. 400 years later the long awaited true King is born.
And so we, on this sacred night, are rightly filled with joy; our hearts beat anew with wonder, awe and gratitude.
Some understandably ask, what is the foundation of our joy – is it for real? There was no room at the Inn, the baby is born in a manger, and the parents Mary and Joseph are refugees without the support of whānau. What kind of joy is that?
Yet, present too were unknown bystanders, the Shepherds and later the Kings, who already believed that this birth was like none other; like none other ever was or ever will be. Wonder, joy, the longing and foretelling of the prophets all seems to be unfolding before their very eyes.
Our newsfeeds tell another story, equally true. Today’s King Herod figures, those driven by jealousy and greed, are rife in our world. From Trump to Putin to the one party state heads of China and South East Asia, corrupt power hungry despots (elected or not) strut our world stage bullying anyone who stands in their road; the richest 1% of our worldwide human family now sit on more wealth than all the savings and assets of 50% of the world’s families; mega-multinationals like Amazon suffocate local regional and national businesses and then, through the power of might and the delirium of greed, shift their profits elsewhere and so contribute nothing, zero, to local taxes preferring instead to fill the dodgy tax-haven coffers of Jersey and Luxemburg and the Canary Islands etc. How quickly can we, in the name of convenience, bow down our credit cards before them.
So, where does the dark mean soulless part of our human reality leave this (the crib)? Is our joy real or naive?
The full answer to that question is experienced at Easter Sunday: the new born babe is indeed the Saviour of the World, the universal King, the long awaited one and so life triumphs over death, goodness defeats evil, and truth mutes mere personal opinion or individual power. Christmas then, in one sense, is a celebration of a wondrous possibility; the resurrection of Easter obviously is yet to come and so our days unfold not just as a celebration of the historical past but as lives of hope, straining forward to the everlasting joy of all that Easter confirms.
During the season of Christmas, the weeks that now unfold, we therefore draw closer to Jesus, we come to know him better, our desire to follow him grows, like Mary we ponder in our heart and mind what this means now, in life, yours and mine and ours. Where do you stand in this crib scene?
When we place ourselves alongside the angels and the shepherds and the kings we can resolve once again to shun the way of Herod, to resist the temptation of greed, and to confront corruption, exploitation and selfishness and instead promote justice and integrity and fairness in our social fabric, our places of work, and our economy. We Christians do this well in our social relations, our neighbourliness, our whanāora, our care for work colleagues. There is also a growing sense of the need to consciously shape our economy: where and for what do we shop? The way we spend our income directly impacts on the way the hearts of our towns and cities look. Our economy too is a social fabric, it’s about people, it’s about employment ethical or not, it’s about profit, reasonable or greedy, it’s about resources exploited or carefully managed, it’s about personalised smaller shop service or anonymous warehouses and malls (or a balance of both). Whose side, whose livelihood do we tend to support?
Brothers and sisters, my prayer for you tonight is that already drawn to the wonders of the new born babe you will also feel drawn to journey within our Christian family towards Easter, Sunday by Sunday, coming to understand and experience what it truly means that today is born our Saviour, Christ the Lord who re-generates each and every one of us personally and, through us, our homes and households – (in the greek oikos from which is derived our word economy).
Joy is not a pill, joy is not a readymade gift, lasting joy is real; it comes alive when we walk in this light the fullness of which is revealed to us at Easter.