And this is the point isn’t it? - that God, God always does the surprising thing, not the boring thing! God always turns the world upside down and showers blessings in unexpected places. God makes Godself flesh, incarnate, in some very unlikely ways.
Yet this year has also been a year of unexpected gifts. Gifts perhaps quite as queer as the gifts proffered by the wise ones. Not gold, frankincense and myrrh – but nevertheless surprising gifts covering some of the same territory. For gold, frankincense and myrrh represent in some ways politics and economics, community and what gives value and the life of the spirit and the lessons of suffering. In each of these areas COVID has brought unexpected gifts – gifts that I shall call the gifts of imagination, interconnection and inwardness.
So firstly, imagination. Imagination can be in short supply in political and economic life. Sometimes it is just too hard to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. What a pandemic has done, is to put us all at risk – and consequently made us mindful of some very important things; that we are all human beings and we have a responsibility to care for one another; that there are some things more important than profit; that we all belong to one planet and we had best care for it. Imagination has also allowed the wonderful gifts of reason and science to be put at the disposal of the world community for the good of all.
Secondly interconnection. It has been a year when human connection has been very difficult – we have all felt the lack of hugs and suffered from being kept away, often across closed borders, from those we love. Yet never have we been so aware of just how interconnected we all are, on this spinning blue and green Earth marble we call home. For those of us fortunate enough to have internet access, strangely there have been perhaps more global connections than ever before – I think for example of Josephine’s uncle who happens to be the Anglican chaplain in Warsaw, with whom we shared an on-line service – something we would never have thought of before. And of all the on-line gatherings there have been to pray and study the bible, to say nothing of just toasting one another around meal tables hundreds of kilometres apart.
And thirdly, inwardness. Suffering asks for reflection. Self-isolation provides time and space for inner work, that often results in extraordinary works of creativity – we are beginning to see the fruit of some of this in works of art, music and writing completed in this time. Ours has been a very outward focussed culture. This year has gone some way perhaps to redressing the balance and while for some – especially our front-line health workers – this has been a year of frantic busyness, for others it has provided a sabbatical space in which the spirit has been at work.
So not gold, frankincense and myrrh – but the gifts of imagination, interconnection and inwardness.
These are just some of the things that have been given to us in this extraordinary time, that we may want to offer to God this Christmas - along with a heightened sense of all that is most precious to us and a depth of gratitude for all the little things that we have learnt to appreciate rather more.
So, tonight, as we wait for the gift of the Christ-child on Christmas day, let’s make a little time o give thanks for some of those little things. Maybe write them on a gift tag and hang them on the Christmas tree – and offer up to God all that this year has been for you. Let’s use a little imagination to put ourselves in the shoes of others for whom this year has been even more difficult than it has for us. Let’s rejoice in how easy it is to interconnect, and pick up the phone or send an email to someone we haven’t spoken to all year and show them we care. Let’s turn our gaze inward, connecting with the deepest parts of ourselves and offering them to God. And remember, that God in Christ is laughing where you are laughing, weeping where you are weeping, feeling every pain and joy as you do and loving us through it all. Amen.
by Penny Jones,
for Merthyr Road UCA & MCC Brisbane Carols Service 13 Dec 2020,
and Milton Anglicans' Christmas Eve 2020