Fr Andy Hamilton: on why Christmas is a time of hope in dark times, for all
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.
Our Christmas is lived overshadowed by these great sufferings and tenacious hopes. It is 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.
Christmas is also a time to make space in our minds and hearts for those who do it hard, to resist the fearful voices around us that incite brutality and violence. 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 for people who seek protection from us will flower.
For those of us who care for people who seek protection from persecution it is a time to encourage one another.
Fr Andrew Hamilton is a Jesuit priest. He taught theology at the United Faculty of Theology for many years, and has contributed widely to theological and religious journals. He has had a long-standing engagement with refugee communities and issues. He is currently editorial consultant of Eureka Street and a policy officer with Jesuit Social Services.