ERIC HODGENS. The True Christmas Spirit Embraces the New.

Dec 24, 2018

Christmas celebrates new life – and a new world order. It is news of joy for all the people. Nervous or not, we are called to embrace the new and add it to our treasure.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not see it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

That’s how Isaiah hoped the future would be for his Israelite people, devastated by decades of exile in Babylon. Finally, they were going back home – to start a new life.

The hard-hearted don’t like the new. That’s the mentality Jesus confronted. No work was allowed on the sabbath. Strictly speaking, healing the man’s withered arm was work. The scribe and pharisees were strict on the law and didn’t like it. Don’t break the bounds.

Jesus’ response: ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm?’ “Jesus looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.” (Mark 3:5)

Ezekiel has the answer: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

For them the law was the law! But for Jesus the sabbath is made for man, not man for the sabbath.

Launch into the deep. That’s the authentic Christian mentality. Nothing ventured, nothing gained can be a Christian motto.

Christopher Columbus and James Cook harnessed their anxieties, embraced the new and found the Americas and the Great South Land.

Galileo and Newton embraced a new understanding of the world. Descartes, Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu pioneered new ways of thinking that produced a new world order.

The luddites smashed the looms but got left behind. New knowledge leads to a transformed world.

Christianity’s early sacred authors are heavily into the new. Paul, the earliest writer, saw a world renewed in Christ. Therefore, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The last of the New Testament writers has the same vision”. “The one on the throne says: ‘Behold I make all things new’” (Rev 21:5)

Embracing the new is part of the Christian DNA. But centuries at the guiding helm of Christendom has deadened that instinct in the halls of church power. Be safe: maximise risk aversion. The fortress protects, but at the price of lost opportunity. The rule of law, though protective, can also oppress and deprive. And it will – if it is not constantly under review to keep up with the new.

Factionalism and identity politics dominate the political scene. Renewables versus coal. Climate change is a fake. Lies are alternative facts. If you are not with us, you are against us. They reject new knowledge.

Political parties are factionalised within. Spite wins at the expense of the common good. Narcissism’s rule book says look after me and beggar the rest. Reaction is the name of the game. New social trends are dismissed. This is driving both left and right to extremes. The sensible middle, though the biggest group, is marginalized.

The church scene mirrors the political scene as it always does. The most pastoral pope in centuries is vilified by his own. A powerful hierarchy, firmly set on its three foundations of dogmatism, moralism and clericalism, wants no erosion of its power. It sticks to its guns. For them adjusting the rules is the start of a slippery slope.

Meanwhile Pope Francis thinks life is more complex and circumstances alter cases.

And a bemused younger generation sees old men in peculiar gear talking largely to themselves and turn away. They live in a new world to which the old men are irrelevant.

Christmas is nothing if not new. The authentic Christian sees a new world opening and turns joyfully to embrace it.

Eric Hodgens is a Melbourne Catholic priest now living in retirement.

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