A prominent Church Historian described Palestine during the time of Jesus in the following terms:
“The troubled, tempestuous times in which Jesus lived raised powerful expectations that the world was coming to an end. Old nations and empires had faded and the new empire of Rome had extended its sway to the outermost reaches of the world. The old faiths and religions were ebbing away and strange new oriental cults were sweeping the Mediterranean. Society was clearly going through a major shift. All kinds of things were clearly coming to an end. The old would be destroyed, but the new would be born.”
I think that last sentence concluding the above quotation indicates that the element of hope made the difference between a people in despair and a people in the midst of a growth process. Their hope was founded on many things. The object lesson of nature’s cycle of flowering and wilting, for one, and a sense of history for another. But for the developing Christian community, a major factor was their belief in Jesus and in His death and resurrection.
In this season of Advent, the Church invites us to begin our preparation for Christmas. Christmas is a day of re-birth, of renewal, of fresh beginnings for all of us. The dominant tone is one of hope.
Like the people of Jesus’ day, we continue to live amidst radical social unease. Like them we should not be unduly disturbed by this situation. We too should look forward, as one of their time described it: “to new heavens and new earths,” and we should contribute to their evolution as Christians who know that Jesus is the centre of the universe and that eventually all nations and all philosophies will be humbled before Him.
Now, in practical terms, what does that mean to you and to me? I suggest that it means that we should try to keep it all in perspective. Social upheaval and the uncertainty that come from fracturing familiar structures is an ever-recurring scene in human history. Sometimes it is harmful, but not necessarily. Always there are signs of hope…of renewal, of fresh and healthy beginnings.
As Christians we ought to nourish those seeds and reflect the optimism that accompanies our faith in God and in His redemptive power at work even in the midst of perversity.
That, you see, is the real spirit of Christmas. The spirit that we are invited to consciously reflect in our own personal environment.