The opening words of John’s gospel will be read at services the world over today. It is one of the great Christmas readings. It conveys to me a sense of awe and wonder at the immensity of God’s creation and the glory of God that is beyond our capacity to understand.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
It’s one of those things I find so good to do – to go out into the open, up to the hills, gaze at the stars – somehow it puts things in a different perspective, helps you to get things into proportion. Where I wonder did I get my enthusiasm for the wonders of the universe? I guess I would have been about 10 when I was given my first astronomy book – it certainly caught my imagination. The Observer’s Book of Astronomy – and the author? Patrick Moore.
19th December saw the fortieth anniversary of the return of the last of the Apollo Missions to the Moon. It had been a remarkable achievement – and it brought us all a new perspective on planet earth.
Chrstopher Riley, writing in the Observer last week, told of the occasion when Apollo 9 astronaut, Rusty Schweickart was doing a space walk when his camera jammed and for five minutes he had nothing else to do but look 160 miles beneath him at Planet Earth.
Schweickart's mind-expanding view and the epiphany that it triggered led him to vividly appreciate the insanity of humans fighting over borders that were invisible to him from up there. "Hundreds of people in the
Middle East killing each
other over some imaginary line that you're not even aware of, that you can't
see," he recounted. "And from where you see it, the thing is a whole,
and it's so beautiful," he remembered of his view of Earth. "You wish
you could take one in each hand, one from each side in the various conflicts, and
say, 'Look. Look at it from this perspective. Look at that. What's
A wonderful sentiment – but it begs the question how can we make such a difference?
That takes me back to that Christmas reading and the heart of the Christmas story.
. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Right at the outset Luke notices something about Jesus that gives us a clue. Lost in the temple at 12 his parents find him among the teachers and scholars of the day and he is ‘listening’ and asking them questions.
One of the many highlights of that remarkable Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games came well after midnight – it moved me to tears. For the previous week we had been on holiday and we had managed to watch or listen into a remarkable cycle of all of Beethoven’s nine symphonies at the Proms. The evening of the Opening Ceremony began for us with the remarkably powerful ninth symphony and the ode to joy. The conductor, Daniel Barenboim, and the orchestra the West Eatern Divan orchestra. An initiative of the Jewish Daniel Barenboim and the Palestian Christian Edward Said to bring together in an orchestra musicians from across the religious divide, Jewish, Christian, Muslim.
The key to playing in an orchestra is to listen to each other. Not just listen, but actively listen. One thing I noticed was the way the players engaged not only with the conductor, but with each other – at times in those televised proms it felt as if the players were in conversation with each other as they played. Remarkable.
How wonderful after midnight at the end of that exhilarating Opening Ceremony to see Daniel Barenboim as one of those carrying in the Olympic Flag.
That’s it. The key to breaking down those barriers is to listen.
At this Christmas may we know the blessing of seeing the world from the perspective of the wonder and awe of the immensity of God’s creation. May we know the blessing of listening and breaking barriers down.
But there’s something more involved in such blessing.
It’s been great opening the windows on an advent calendar in ourhouse this year. I have been following through Advent a set of prayer meditations put together by the Church of Scotland from the churches of
and Israel – as they appeal
to us in churches throughout the world to be active in our support of their
commitment to peace and justice in the ’
birth. land of Jesus
There’s no 25th window on my Advent calendar. There is a 25th meditation in my book of prayers.
It is an invitation to us all in churches throughout the world from the churches of
to think again about what blessing entails. Palestine
Jesus was in the business of offering blessing to people.
It’s so easy to think of blessing as something passive.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you when you are persecuted.
Elias Chacour is a remarkable Palestinian Christian, Archbishop of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. He has devoted a lifetime to seeking to bridge the divide and bring Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim together in understanding of each other.
“How could I go to a persecuted young man in a Palestinian refugee camp, for instance, and say, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Or “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven?” That man would revile me, say neither I nor my God understood his plight, and he would be right.
Elias Chacour speaks the language Jesus spoke, Aramaic, Syriac, a language that survives in small pockets in the middle east.
“When I understand Jesus’ words in the Aramaic [they mean something very different], I translate like this:
“Get up, go ahead, do something, move you who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for you shall be satisfied.
“Get up, go ahead, do something, move you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.
To me, says Elias Chacour, this reflects Jesus’ words and teachings much more accurately. I can hear him saying, “Get your hands dirty to build a human society for human beings; otherwise, others will torture and murder the poor, the voiceless, and the powerless.”
Christianity is not passive, but active, energetic, alive, going beyond despair.”
Come all you Faithful: An Advent Journey with the Palestinian People (Church of Scotland and Christian Aid, 2012)
Christmas invites us to see the world from a new perspective, to listen to one another and above all to get up, go ahead, do something, move to make a difference in the world.
It’s worth reflecting what is it we can do to make just such a difference?