Perhaps each new year
is a reincarnation of the last,
a recycling of failed days
and disappointing moments.
Throw the left-over frustrations,
the kitchen-scrap resentments,
unwanted stinging weeds and discarded
bitter clippings of the old year
into the cosmic compost bin.
Wait, then, for gentle processes
and the good bacteria of forgiving decomposition,
to be made complete,
reducing unpleasant corruption
to timely dark humus.
Spread it over the naked and freshly-dug year
with a quiet prayer;
trust in the divine unfolding
of seasons, sometimes painful,
and never quite expected.
Watch with wonder and delight
as hopeful shoots emerge to be nurtured,
green, and full of life.
With the coming of Word
at the beginning of the second act,
Grace and Truth
stride purposefully to centre stage
to take up their allotted positions.
Law, having featured so strongly in act one,
is, according to the script,
directed to move upstage
and to quietly exit to the right.
Law moves with deliberate steps,
relishing the lingering spotlight,
which, for loyalty or fear, perhaps both,
seems reluctant to trust
the new leads to carry the show.
Law’s assured and comfortable lines
seduce and enthral,
delivered with the much-practised ease
of one who has held the proscenium for centuries.
The spectators are less than convinced
by the unfamiliar and surprising utterances
of Grace and Truth.
The play pauses awkwardly,
perplexing the audience;
some begin to leave.
O Light who is shining in all the dark places;
shine on me.
Radiate your hope upon shadowed faces;
let them see
the love and the courage of one who’s defying
the powers that threaten, the gloom that’s denying
the truth, grace and justice; together defining
the kingdom that’s coming to be.
O Light who is true and cuts through the night-time;
shine in me.
Let love glow warm when we’re worried and frightened
make us free;
for action to end all the fear and the hating,
to touch anxious hearts when love is abating,
to bring on the peace for which all are waiting;
where faith, hope and love abide: three.
O Light who is life for all of creation,
shine through me.
We are the offspring of Love’s celebration;
sent to be –
the flickering flames of hope where there’s need,
embracing God’s children, regardless of creed.
To gather a harvest, where love is the seed;
we make this our goal and our plea.
according to one ancient story,
looking for a child;
they found one in Bethlehem.
Leaving their gifts with the family
they shot through, back home to the east;
conveniently dropping Jerusalem,
and its palace, from their return itinerary.
They might have guessed that the old king
would get somewhat angry
when he discovered the broken promise.
Still, they’d be out of the country by then;
so would the boy, with a bit of luck,
not to mention some timely dreaming
on the part of his dad.
But for all the other families
in the little town of Bethlehem,
there were no sweet dreams,
just a nightmare.
With the easy wisdom known as hindsight,
it would have been better for everyone
had the men we call wise,
not made the trip at all;
their gifts were of little consequence,
and even yarn-spinner, Matthew,
didn’t manage to weave them
into the rest of his story.
Micah from Moresheth,
in the region of Judah,
gave us Bethlehem as the location
for the birth of the Messiah.
Perhaps he stopped by at the little town
on his one-day journey to Jerusalem
to do his prophecy thing.
He posed a challenge for gospel writers,
Luke and Matthew:
how to arrange for Jesus from Nazareth
to be born in Bethlehem, three days to the south.
For the one, it was a census; for the other,
fear, a massacre, and the return to a new home
after refuge in a foreign land.
For the one, the drama of a stable birth
with flights of angels and bewildered shepherds.
For the other, a fearful escape
and the vulnerability of refugees.
They each give us reason to pause
and reflect upon the strange purposes
of an even stranger God.
I wonder, if Luke was writing today,
might it be the homeless and the hopeless,
camped beneath a bridge, who would be
the subjects of the angelic invitation?
I wonder, if Matthew was writing today,
would he write of the kindness
of the people-smugglers
who helped the Holy family
reach their place of welcome and safety?
In his birth stories, gospel writer Matthew
gives us the terrible tale sometimes called The massacre of the innocents.
It seemed plausible at the time of writing;
this callously brutal act, ordered
by a despotic monarch
for the sake of preserving his kingship.
In more recent years
historians and scholars
have dared to ask the question:
did it really happen?
They point to a shortage of corroborating evidence
beyond the scriptures;
along with the Moses story,
and the need to solve
the Bethlehem – Nazareth conundrum.
Traditionalists, of which there are a few,
point to the character, or lacking,
of Herod the Great, a ruthless tyrant
who would tolerate no limitations
to his pursuit of power.
Without doubt he was capable
of ordering such a terrible deed,
as have been so many kings and rulers since.
In the last hundred years
there has also been no shortage of tyrant:
dictators who have cruelly
oppressed their own people,
tribal leaders who express their hatred
with guns and machetes,
presidents and Prime Ministers
who declare bloody, high-tech war,
on the slimmest of pretexts.
Few have dared
to directly target children,
but these little ones have borne
more than their share of suffering.
Historical considerations aside,
it is good that this Christmas text reminds us
how the small, the innocent, the weak
and the vulnerable, have so often
paid the price demanded
by the wealthy and the strong.
And still do.