‘When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened…. “ And they departed praising God.’ Luke 2:15-21.
’With its relentlessly recriminatory tone, it’s often more mope opera than soap opera … It’s more eggshell than bombshell.’ Review of Omie Scobie’s book Endgame.
Traditionally, Bethlehem has been a focus of the Christmas celebrations around the world but, this year, a nativity scene was erected there in rubble and surrounded by razor wire as a tribute to the children of Gaza. The town where the Light dawned two thousand years ago was mostly in darkness and, apart from church services, Christmas was effectively cancelled due to the ongoing warfare.
It’s tempting to think that the Nativity is only about light and hope which can so easily be eclipsed but, in reality, the baby and his family quickly became refugees fleeing to Egypt as King Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two to be killed by his soldiers. The bloodshed and Massacre of the Innocents then has a fearsome link with what is happening today when so many civilians have been killed, wounded and traumatised in the terrible suffering being inflicted. Jesus lived then – but so many others did not. How can there be hope?
The baby Jesus lived but he was later put to death as an adult in the most ghastly way by soldiers also obeying orders. On Good Friday, it seemed that death had finally claimed him and darkness seemed to overcome the light when an eclipse took place as he died. Yet, on Easter Day, his resurrection brought a new beginning and fresh hope – though it was the scars and marks of his suffering that Jesus carried on his body that showed his frightened disciples that it was not a ghost but really him before them. More than two thousand years later that same love and hope can still live on – unless we choose to extinguish them.
We, too, can carry seen and unseen scars of the suffering we’ve been through and our lives can sometimes become more mope opera than soap opera as Scobie’s book indicates. But the shepherds – people sometimes scorned in those days – had a choice whether or not to do as the angels told them. Luke tells us that they did go to find love incarnate in the unlikely setting of a manger and that they returned praising God. Did they all go or did some stay to care for their sheep? Did meeting love in that way make a difference to their lives? We shall never know.
What is known is that many, many prayers were said for peace this Christmas the world over and 2024 will present opportunities for each of us to make that peace a reality. The angels sang of peace on earth, goodwill to all – that seemed unlikely on Good Friday and may seem unrealistic now. But one of the choices before us is to enable mope opera and soap opera to become hope opera – if we allow it to. The shepherds chose to respond to the invitation of the angels to discover love, hope and faith afresh – and, in a nutshell rather than eggshells or bombshells, will we as 2024 dawns?
With my prayers for a hopeful New Year; pob bendith,