At Christmas Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, at a time when they were travelling together with their people but were away from their familiar landscape and things, away from home. They were in that place, dislocated because of government decree. They had not been ordered to go and get vaccinated against COVID, but to go and be counted in a census. They were happy to obey, but they must have been tired from the journey. Exhausted might be a better description. Not a time or place to have a baby.
As church we are still traveling together as God’s people (although leaders of all Christian denominations say some have dropped off along the way during the last two years for all sorts of reasons). We may be back in our churches, but is not quite the same as it was. We feel a sense of dislocation and weariness. We are not in the same place we once were in all sorts of ways. And the government decrees have not gone away. With Mary and Joseph we have (mostly) honoured what we have been asked to do for the common good, but we are tired, and some are exhausted after two years on the way together, doing what we have been asked to do or not do.
At Christmas Christ was born for us tired and dislocated travellers on the way. Wanting to be obedient, but frustrated at the same time, wanting to be ‘back home’ in church life, but sensing we can’t completely go back, and wondering what that means. We like church to be on our familiar comfortable terms, but sense that is not the future God has for us.
Jesus is our God, the God who is ‘with us’, who allowed himself to be dislocated from heaven to earth and limit himself to human form, and to experience the weariness and frustration that go with life here on earth in the flesh, for us.
He came to Mary and Joseph in their dislocation and weariness, and he comes to us this Christmas in our dislocation and weariness too.
He comes as Lord of the Church and Saviour of the world – his church and his world.
He comes to comfort, strengthen, forgive, save, offer hope, and to bring us joy and peace from heaven itself.
As I write a few months out from Christmas, the leaders of Christian churches in SA are talking together about what we might expect church life to look like in 2022. What restrictions might be eased or imposed by government decree, and how that will impact life in our faith communities for the third year running. In the NT the government decrees are different again and so will be the impact.
For some the call to be vaccinated has been easy to comply with. Once we were, we hoped that it would be all over and life could go back to “normal”. Not so fast. For others the call to be vaccinated has been more difficult, for a variety of reasons. The implications for some could mean not being able to fulfil their daily work expectations. That includes some pastors and teachers. The dislocation for them and their communities could be greatly felt. In congregational life there are already differing views about the co-existence of vaccinated and unvaccinated worshippers and workers. And what about the children…
It seems there may be new challenges to navigate in 2022. ‘Opening up’ is something we have longed for, but it will come at a cost, and will require more conversation and decisions in our communities, more wisdom, more patience and more love – wisdom, patience and love that we need to ask Jesus for, because we sense we are running out of our own inner resources.
To ‘open up’ the way for us to heaven itself took a conscious decision by Jesus, a willingness to endure dislocation, to be wearied and burdened for us, and eventually to die for us. That is why he came. There was no other way to glory, for him or for us.
I pray that at Christmas Christ will come to his church and his whole world, weary and dislocated and threatened and unsure of the pathway forward as we are here in the church and on planet earth, in all sorts of ways. I pray that his presence with us will comfort and strengthen us and make us willing to bear the cost of continuing to love and serve each other in an ever-changing church and world.
May the joy of his presence with us overcome our weariness and inspire new faith, hope and love as we travel together, in his name, into 2022.
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