Monday, 24 December 2012

Why are we waiting?

And so the world didn't end on Friday, although a lot of people have felt the power of this year's Winter Solstice as a time of alignment, transition and transformation. It seems like every generation of human beings has some notion that theirs will be the last, that an apocalyptic event will occur or a rescuing Messiah will come to signal the end-time. None of us really know when or whether that will happen and in the meantime we have to deal with the world as it is. 

I've blogged before about the way in which Advent can get pushed out by the run-up to Christmas, just as the days from Christmas to the start of the New Year can get lost as an in-between time, the dog days of a year that it has already passed its Best Before date. And yet this is an important beginning time. For some it is the start of the church year, and for all of us it is an opportunity to "open to new light from whatever source it may come", as the Quaker Advices and Queries have it. I always like to remember that Christmas starts on December 25 (or January 7 in the Orthodox church tradition) and continues until the Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, twelve days later.  The Christmas Carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, is an example of this tradition. In our house we mark it by exchanging gifts of DVDs from Boxing Day until January 6 (they take up less space than partridges, geese, swans, milkmaids and drummers etc and are somewhat cheaper!). 

Of course a lot of us have questions about the traditional Christmas story and whether it has meaning for us in the modern world. Maybe these days more of us are merely continuing earlier Pagan traditions of Yule and other festivals associated with the solstice and the seasons the natural world. And yet for me, the rhythms of the Church calendar also remain relevant, because it is here that we can encounter the call to personal transformation and growth. Although it is good that people no longer feel that they have to attend church out of dutiful dull observance, as human beings we nevertheless have spiritual health needs. It is in meeting these that we find meaning in our lives, as Victor Frankl famously showed in his book Man's Search for Meaning

I don't want a life-denying and ultimately unhealthy secularism to triumph. There are many who really need to hear the message of how deeply they are held by a loving and abundant God, or whatever other words we might use for this: Light, Source, Spirit, the Divine, Other, perhaps just a sense of a Higher Self beyond our personal Ego. But for this to happen within the current manifestations of the Christian church,  it must find ways to put its house in order. In this time of waiting for the light of the Christ-child there is an opportunity for the church too to have a new beginning. 

Here are my three Christmas wishes for a waiting world: a real humility and penitential action to bring justice for all church victims of child abuse; a recognition that spiritual marriage can encompass gay couples; and a final turning away from the deep-seated misogyny that keeps women out of the priesthood. The world cannot understand why we are waiting. I'm not sure that the babe about to arrive in the manger will either.