by Frances Correia

One of the major challenges of living in a global world, is that we are always dealing with difference. We can choose to engage with others who are different from ourselves in a variety of ways. A recent striking example from my own life of not dealing well with difference, was when I discovered a note in my kitchen saying ‘no boys allowed’. Now anyone who has small children is probably aware of the gender divide that strikes at about age five and which can be fairly hectically expressed. In a household with two girls and one boy, a note like this is a deeply hurtful moment of exclusion. The desire to divide the world into ‘us and them’, ‘in and out’, ‘my group and your group’ is part of how we human beings seem to engage with and imagine our world.

However, even with children, it is possible to sit my daughters down and help them to imagine their brother’s feelings, to empathise with him, to feel with him, and in so doing to shift their attitude about playing with him.

As Christians we believe every person is created in the image and likeness of God. As a parent, I have a responsibility to help my children deal with their differences. So too, as a mature Christian, I have a responsibility to bring my own difficulties with others into the transforming love of God.

When Jesus invites us to love our enemies, he is really challenging us to live in a profoundly counter- cultural way. I invite you, this week, to take a moment to pause and consider a person you find it difficult to relate to. You might find their difference of faith, of education, culture, gender, age or race a reason to not engage with openness and generosity. Imagine God looking at them in love.  Does anything within you shift?

As we know, our country has lasting scars from Apartheid, but also from xenophobia; from the rise of fundamentalist religious intolerance on the one hand, and a secular intolerance of religions in general on the other. We live in a world where ease of communication means that we can be connected like never before, but also where it is astonishingly easy to communicate angry and violent sentiments.

Due to this plethora of cultures, ideas and beliefs surrounding us, it is very tempting to want to retire into a known safe religious or cultural laager. Yet that is not the example that God offers us in the life of Jesus. Firstly, as we start our journey towards Christmas, we need to remember that we worship a God who chose to step out of glory into the simplicity of a stable.

We need to remember Jesus who was unafraid to sit with tax collectors or prostitutes. Jesus who healed the centurion’s servant and revealed himself as the Messiah to a Samaritan woman. Jesus who constantly went beyond the boundaries of his cultural milieu. This is the Jesus we are called to follow. This is the God who looks at each one of us with love, and who wants us also to look at one another with love.