The Christmas season is here and it is time for celebrations, get-togethers and festivities again. It’s a good thing, really. Someone said that every month there should be a Christmas just so that the jovial spirit, the goodwill, the kindred spirit, the forgiving and giving attitude continues throughout the year.
Yes, it’s time for fun and festivities. But not for everyone.
As I write, I am sitting in a hospital at night, inside the Intensive Care Unit where no one gets to sleep properly. There is the sound of a baby crying. There is this young mother who just delivered a baby, but not before being attacked by a serious seizure. There is a young boy badly burned in the arm and injured in the head. And there is this middle-aged mother of four children who could breathe her last anytime. It doesn’t look and feel like Christmas in here. There is tension. Questions. Mystery. Anguish. Fear. Expectations. And it’s cold too. Anytime there could be bad news, or perhaps even a good news. If it’s good news, it would have to be a miracle. And we all wait and hope for a miracle.
As I sit and watch and wait, I can understand how people in such tragic situations would long to be free from tensions, the mystery, anguish, fear and find an answer to their questions.
Then I think again and realise that when you take away the mystery and pain, you also take away part of our hope and longing for eternity. When you take away the questions, you also take away a deep search for wisdom and meaning in life. People who have undergone great suffering and sickness often find more value and meaning in living. And the wisest and most knowledgeable are often those who have more questions in life than answers.
The very fact that we deeply long for peace, joy, beauty and answers that seems so elusive, and a life free from the struggles and pain, points to a greater truth that there is such a life and a place where all of these is there in abundance. Whenever I attend a funeral I am always reminded of this truth. If all that we long and dream for dies with us in the grave, then we are the most tragic race in the face of the universe, because somehow by chance, we have been endowed with the ability to dream of perfect beauty and tranquillity but we have been deprived of any means to achieve them. If this is true, says the apostle Paul, then we are to be pitied more than anyone else. We might as well spend the rest of our futile lives eating, drinking and in merry making for tomorrow we die without any hope.
But this cannot be the truth about our existence. When we long for intimacy, there is a reality called friendship. When we hunger, there is a reality called food. Intimacy does not create friendship just as hunger does not create food. We know that our longing for them is real because friendship is as real as food. But when somebody longs and dreams for a talking pig and argues that it must be there because he dreamt of it, we know that is bad fantasy because no one can prove that a talking pig exists. When we believe, there can be something called a miracle. And science will agree with us that miracles do happen.
That’s why they believe sitting inside the Intensive Care Unit. As I continue to sit there, I cannot help but think that the scene in the hospital is much closer to the scene in Bethlehem that first Christmas than many of our well decorated churches and comfortable homes. It was cold in Bethlehem. There was anguish. There were an oppressed people. There was a plot to murder babies and over throw an empire destroy a race.
Today in our world and in our state it is not very different here. It’s like having a dark cloud above your head, or like walking with fear knowing that a bomb could go off behind you anytime. How does it feel like to realise that you or your child or your mother could die any moment, or to realise that your whole race could be wiped out by an angry and insecure Empire? I don’t know. But I know that people in such situations almost always readily believe and accept a miracle when it happens. For example, like a visitation by Angelic beings, or a virgin giving birth to a Son. It is no wonder that God usually reveals His most amazing truths to simple and broken people—like the Samaritan women at the well, or like the rugged shepherds, or like Mary and Elizabeth—all living in fear of the unknown. Simplicity and brokenness carry God’s truth better than the academia and the sophistry of the seminary where people would rather question than believe.
Sufferings and hardships prepares us for the unknown and deepens our hope for a miracle. As I write, it is not Christmas yet. But soon it will be. There is tension in the air. A conspiracy to overthrow a government. We don’t know who will be killed next, or if a bomb might go off. We don’t know when the next faction will issue their ridiculous Christmas greetings to a people they hunt and kill.
But the setting is right. If we believe hard and pray hard, there will be a new star in the dark sky and a new song will ring in the air. We will learn to look up and have the courage to sing again. And then it will be Christmas!