There is something about the opening to the nativity story in Luke 1 which leaves me a bit bemused.
Elizabeth and Zechariah have longed to have a child of their own for many, many years. But no child has ever appeared and it seems that the time has run out.
One day, a glorious angel appears to Zechariah and announces that not only will they have a child, but they will have a top of the range boy child! (As the passage goes on, the angel seems to get more excited with each added feature.)
This alpha male will be the answer to their every prayer! He will fulfil the hopes and dreams of the whole Israeli nation! He will be a role model to families everywhere! He will steer people point people to the Lord!
“He will be a joy and delight to you.”
And Zechariah replies, “How can I be sure?”
It’s hard to know what more confirmation Zechariah needed. Perhaps he needed a written guarantee that the wee man would sleep the whole night through. Perhaps Zechariah realised in that moment that raising a super-child would require more hard work and commitment than he had budgeted for. Or perhaps, after years and years of crippling disappointment, the promise of joy was too unbelievable.
At this time of year, we seem to see the crippling disappointments of those around us more sharply. As we decorate our houses, we sense how it would feel to be vulnerably housed. As we prepare for Christmas parties, we understand a little better the desperation of using money kept aside for food or heating on extravagant gifts. As we gather family close, we appreciate the reality of safely celebrating and arguing together rather needing to numb that excruciating reality with drugs and alcohol.
But, although the Christmas lights might shine a little sharper on the issues, I’m not sure, if we’re honest, that those of us not working in priority areas want to make the commitment to bring lasting joy to those who are struggling.
Rather than committing to understanding the underlying issues that would offer real solutions, we offer seasonal happiness. A hand-out here; an extra Secret Santa gift there. We try to squeeze joy into a happiness-shaped, gift-wrapped one-off donation. Out of the best intentions to do the best thing, we offer charity.
With Christmas almost upon us, let us all - those of us working at the coal face, and those of us who rely on those workers to bring back their stories - commit to finding and offering a way towards joy that people can be sure of.
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