A service celebrating multicultural Melbourne at St Paul’s Cathedral late last month was a marvellous event.
There were people from almost every continent: joyful, laughing, listening, dancing, singing and eating together. What a delight! The Cathedral was alive with colour, sound and movement. It highlighted what we can be together, in service of God and each other. As Saint Peter told those gathered at the home of the Roman Centurion, Cornelius: “God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
That night in Cornelius’ home was a time of joy, like the multicultural service at the Cathedral. That sort of joy, which flows from the One who came as a baby born in Bethlehem, brings hope of peace, hope of dreams fulfilled. It is a joy that transcends the painful circumstances in which so many people find themselves.
Recently, I was in Amman, Jordan, in the midst of the terrible tensions wrecking the Middle East; and yet I saw and heard the joy of God’s people. Christmas is a time for joy and peace. Yes, it can be sentimentalised, trivialised with all the busyness and commercialisation of what should be a simple celebration. And it can be challenged by the pace, pressures and pain of ordinary lives. But reflecting on Jesus Christ and how he fulfilled the promises of God is inspiring.
Christmas cards speak of joy and peace; Christmas carols sing of joy and peace: joy and peace in the birth of a baby in a land troubled then, as now. Mary, the mother of Jesus, trusted in God and his promises. Luke’s gospel tells us that she treasured up these things in her heart and pondered them. Perhaps she glimpsed what we can glimpse this side of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection: a vision of a world restored, made whole.
As the famous Christmas carol puts it:
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful, all ye nations, rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem
Have a very happy and joyous Christmas.