Christmas hope in an uncertain world

For many of us, Christmas feels very different this year. Perhaps we are separated from the family we usually celebrate with as they or we cannot safely travel. We may have lost loved ones in this pandemic. Perhaps we have lost our job and don’t have money to spend on gifts or a special meal as in other years. As someone said to me: “I wish we could just skip Christmas this year.”

Christmas is a time which is so connected with memories and traditions that it is not surprising that we feel the losses of this year particularly acutely. It’s okay to feel sad or down. It is a normal response to grief and disappointment and it doesn’t help to pretend that we are happy when we are struggling.

But perhaps this year is an invitation for us to connect with the essence of Christmas. In the meditation on the Incarnation, St Ignatius invites us to imagine the three persons of the Trinity looking down on the world through all of history and seeing our pain and struggle. As the Trinity looks down on our planet, they have seen our reality in 2020. They have seen the pandemic, political upheavals, global warming and discouragement and disillusionment among many. It is for us too, at this moment, that God came into our world in the person of Jesus.

As we gaze on the manger, we see Jesus born into our human reality as a baby. God chooses to step into the chaos. Mary and Joseph may have been unsettled by how their lives were plunged into uncertainty. A baby conceived out of marriage in a difficult time in history under the reign of Herod. Soon they will be driven into exile out of fear for the life of their child. The manger scene looks idyllic, but for a young couple to have their baby far away from the support of family cannot have been easy. God knows what it is to live the vulnerability of our human experience.

The message of Christmas is one we need to hear, perhaps more than ever this year. Christ is born to bring light out of darkness, hope out of despair and joy out of sadness. The ultimate promise underpins the immense uncertainty of this past year – God is at work redeeming all that is lost and broken.

So, while humanly speaking, this may be a hard Christmas for many of us, we need to listen for the consoling assurances this feast of God’s incarnation gives. God loves us. God in Jesus, enters into and shares in the uncertainty and vulnerability of our human experience. In the end, as the mystic Julian of Norwich reminds us, “all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well.”

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell has worked in the area of Ignatian Spirituality for 19 years and heads up the work of the Jesuit Institute School of Spirituality. Her primary focus is the training and supervision of spiritual directors and the giving of retreats. She is also a registered Psychologist and her PhD focused on the interface between Christian Spirituality and Psychology. Annemarie is an editorial advisor to “The Way” journal of Spirituality and has authored a number of articles relating to the training of Spiritual Directors in an African context. She has contributed to several books, most recently co-authoring a book of Lenten Reflections: “Long Journey to the Resurrection”. She has contributed to international conferences and consultations in Spirituality in the United Kingdom; the United States; Rome; Spain, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

a.paulin-campbell@jesuitinstitute.org.za @annemariepc_c
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