The stories of Christmas tell us how the lives of simple people collide with the exactions and the cruelties of kings. In Luke’s Gospel a pregnant Mary must make a long, hot journey so that the Romans can make a census for taxation purposes. Her journey ends and her care begins with the birth of Jesus outside the town. In Matthew’s Gospel Mary and Joseph must hide Jesus away and escape to Egypt because Herod wants to eliminate a possible threat to his rule.
We take delight in hearing these stories because in them simple values like hospitality, simplicity, generosity and trust outlast the abstract and brutal designs of rulers. On wise men bowing, shepherds calling by, angels singing, parents caring and a child sleeping, the future is built. That is why Christmas is a time of hope in dark times, recalling us to what matters, to the impossible possibilities.
This Christmas, too, the ordinary decencies and affections of human life are lived, sometimes on the edge and sometimes in the tornado of the brutality of states. Many people have been torn from their home by violence and hatred, spread across borders and along boundaries. They cling to life, to memories and to hope against hope, feeding their children and praying to their God as best they can.
In detention centres around Australia, on Christmas Island, Manus Island and Nauru, too, many people will spend this Christmas behind fences, longing for, fearing for spouses and family living endangered in the nations from which they themselves fled, hoping against hope for compassion in the country to which they came.
Many of the people whom we accompany at Jesuit Social Services do not suffer from the brutality of states, but from their careless parsimony. When government cut funds for effective programs young people may be separated from the adults who form their point of connection to society. If their benefits are cut they may no longer hope to live but simply to survive.
Our Christmas is lived overshadowed by these great sufferings and tenacious hopes. For many of us it is rightly not a time for cursing the darkness but for lighting candles and for the simple joy of seeing the illuminated faces of those whom we love, a time for giving and for knowing ourselves blessed.
But for all of us Christmas is rightly a time to make space in our minds and hearts also for those who do it hard, to resist the fearful voices around us that incite brutality and violence, and to pray that our governments will focus on people, not costs. It is a time to remember that simple humanity and decency will outlast brutality and intrigue, that love will drive out fear, and that the seeds we sow together with vulnerable people will flower.