Monday, 19 December 2005

President's Christmas message

The Census which sent Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the first Christmas was the first in the region of Syria.

It was part of Emperor Augustus’ plans to develop the first empire-wide budget for the Roman Empire; the productivity of each region could be assessed and taxed. It was then possible to work out what each person and region could contribute to the Emperor. What was new then seems so familiar now. The more you have, the more you are worth to the Empire. It was the first installment of economic rationalism! It was a preferential option for the already wealthy to make more.

But not even Caesar Augustus could imagine the challenge to this Empire from one impoverished baby born in a back room stall. Jesus was God’s mission to replace the power of money with the purposes of God.

In the midst of all the perplexing and the unforeseen Christmas is the reminder to us that the purposes of God unfold in and through the birth of this child, the Prince of Peace, “bringing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven,” as he later taught us.

It is a reminder that we are not loved because we are of financial worth. Instead we are of worth because we are loved by God. Of course money has its place, but it is not the first place, nor the only way to evaluate a society. Jesus calls us to build societies of peace and justice, which is so much more than greater economic prosperity. He gives himself for fairness, growing depth in relationships between individuals, groups and cultures, deeper understanding of the ‘other’ who is different from us and resources for the benefit of all within borders and beyond. What is the use of a greedy and divided society at war with itself and others? Silence about these matters simply misses the mark.

He stands against all the systems of race, and religion, and power. For him, just like us, it started in a cradle, so that we might follow from the cradle through life to the grave and beyond, so that we might live our lives in the loving and just perspective that he shared with us.

No wonder we come with reverence to the cradle. For the baby was not to be silent. Before him all the illusions of who we are fall away and we see the Christmas message so plainly. In vulnerability the living God comes into our presence and our deepest longings can be realised.

There is a movement of people within society who are searching for a vital spirituality and rejecting the dry rationalism of the past, whether religious or secular, ecclesiastical or modern.

Whatever the environment – be it meditation and prayer or a search for meaning or happiness - it is evident there is a lot more bubbling in the lives of people than most have been given credit for. Let this Christmas be a time when all of us can reflect on the meaning and implications of a God who comes into our presence through the Christ child, offering hope, peace and justice.


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