In this 2020 season of great joy, our country is on fire. Devastation is everywhere. Lives and property are being lost. We are powerless to withstand the forces of nature. Where is the good news in any of this? What space or moment is there for hope?
Fr Frank Brennan SJ
Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
Matthew 2: 1-12
For us Christians, this is a season of great joy. The Christ child was born and came amongst us on Christmas Day. We then celebrated the feast of the Holy Family. And today we celebrate the completion of the Christmas crib with the Magi coming from afar to pay homage offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. We proclaim that Jesus is good news for everyone and not just for those who come to the table of the Lord.
And yet in this 2020 season of great joy, our country is on fire. Devastation is everywhere. Lives and property are being lost. We are powerless to withstand the forces of nature. Where is the good news in any of this? What space or moment is there for hope?
The prophecy from Isaiah in the first reading may hold a clue. Usually we read this prophecy as one of sheer joy and light. But there at the outset the prophet proclaims:
‘See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples’.
What an apt description of the Australian continent this day. It’s in the midst of that darkness and under the cover of those thick clouds that light is to be found:
‘but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.’
Even in the midst of loss and destruction, we can be a light for our neighbour, a beacon of hope – the hope that transcends the reality of the brutal here and now with the promise of new life and resurrection. I was struck and rather challenged by a letter to the editor in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald. A gentleman from Bellingen wrote: ‘Politicians from the top-down, religious leaders, and countless others are urging us to pray for rain. Let us examine this idea as the Greek philosopher Epicurus may have done: Is God able and willing to control the weather? If so, why has He willed it to inflict such terrible disasters on people? Why call him merciful? If He is able but unwilling, then He is malevolent. Why worship Him? If He is willing but unable, then He is not omnipotent, and therefore what’s the point of asking Him to change the weather? If He is both unwilling and unable (which the evidence might suggest), then we ourselves have to do what we can to mend the climate and hence the weather, always paying due respect to the laws of physics.’
We would all agree that each of us has a responsibility to do what we can to ensure that the right policies and strategies are in place to mend the climate and to counter the effects of fire. If we cannot help directly, we will put our hands into our pockets as deeply as we can to assist those in the line of fire. Then having done all we can, whether it be through practical assistance today or through political processes for future policy change, we might say that nothing further can be done. Or we might pray in hope for those necessary changes and for a renewed reality, praying for the assurance that the Lord is with us, that God’s spirit is in our hearts, and that our Creator will sustain the whole of creation. With hope and realism, we can be a light for all, even under the smoke cloud enveloping our land.
Jesus with us in the Christmas crib never promised to put right here and now all the excesses of nature nor the evil in human hearts. Afterall, he was born in a manger, and Herod was plotting to do him in from the moment of his birth. Nature takes its course and human beings act out of a mixture of motives, some of which are evil and selfish. Our God makes no pretence to put all these things right here and now. The ultimate promise of Jesus is that after suffering and death, there is the assurance of life eternal; that even in the agony in the garden, God’s will is done when Jesus surrenders to the forces around him. Jesus having walked this path is with us in the midst of our agonies and despair. God’s spirit is alive and active in the wonders of creation, even in the heat of the bushfires, and in the generosity of the human heart, especially in the selflessness of the fire fighters and the simplicity and acceptance of those who have lost all so brutally and so quickly. We join the magi in offering homage: ‘they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.’ And having discerned our situation, we do what we can to mitigate or avoid evil: ‘having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.’
The gentleman from Bellingen might think us naïve, stupid or unthinking. But we are not only thinking, responsible citizens doing all we can to put right our situation in nature. We are Christian believers who like the writer of the book of Ephesians are convinced that Jesus is good news for everyone including the gentleman from Bellingen as ‘it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.’
Even in the midst of the fires, let’s be consoled one more time by the vision of the Christmas crib where the child Jesus and family, finding no place at the inn and being under threat from the powerful like Herod, are paid homage by perfect strangers bearing exotic gifts and universal goodwill. Having seen his star in the east, we too come with gifts to adore the Lord. And there’s no harm in praying for rain. We’re not asking for magic, just for the divine assurance that the Lord is with us in the heart of the firestorm. With hope and realism, we can be a light for all, even under the smoke cloud enveloping our land.