People died, many more lost their homes and belongings, and more again were forced to evacuate their properties and take shelter in public buildings or crowd in with family or friends. Even those who were many kilometres from fire-danger were affected, enduring choking, smoke-laden air for days on end, if not weeks. In all that disruption, loss and turmoil, it was hard to have an Advent frame of mind, to look forward to an imminent season of peace and hopefulness.
Now, with Christmas upon us, as our minds absorb the notion that “God so loved the world that he sent his only son” to be one of us, we think particularly of those of our community who have suffered loss and harm, all the more so because when Christ was born it was away from his home, in a place of emergency shelter without any comforts, and in imminent danger. That was the place in the human story of which God chose to be a part. I hope all those who are somehow deprived of a normal Christmas this year can feel God cares for them, that Christ came first of all among the displaced and the vulnerable.
Then, as we give thanks to God for his presence in humanity, we give thanks for our brothers and sisters in the emergency services, in the volunteer groups, in the churches and charities, and those with no particular affiliations, who worked so hard to help and to save. Many may still be doing so on Christmas Day. As we celebrate Christ as “Emmanuel”, God with us, we celebrate the goodness of all who are “with” others in their times of need. They may or may not recognise themselves as agents of God’s care, but to believers, who see that it is God’s Spirit that moves people to care and to seek what is good, that is what they are. Happy Christmas to you all!
And then again, as we return to the thought of Christ coming because God so loved the world, we recognise “the world” is more than those of us around here, more even than the tens of millions of displaced across the globe. Our fires and other natural disasters ravage the earth itself. Fire and flood, storms and, of course, drought kill countless living things and make wasteland of great portions of the earth. Yes, these things have always happened, but as the frequency and severity of these events continually increase, as temperatures rise globally, it is as if Earth itself is screaming at us that it needs help, too. Earth needs us to “love the world”, to love and care for it as God’s creation and our common home. The Jesus who was born at Christmas closely observed the world around him, drawing lessons from the seasons, the birds of the air, the flowers of the fields, the crops and the weeds. So should we.
Christmas is a time of celebration, even in the midst of troubles. Indeed, it celebrates that God came to us, is with us, in the midst of our troubles. That is the gift of Christmas, the gift of Hope. So let’s celebrate and rouse up in ourselves the spirit of Christmas, to be “with” one another as God is ever with us; to be with those in need especially, seeing them living in their “stables”, lying vulnerable in their mangers; to be with and for the very Earth, the “world” into which Christ was sent, as part of which he was born.