Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas in a Time of Uncertainty

It's no secret that the country--the world, even--is going through a time of great economic uncertainty. It's hard to go through a day, it seems, without hearing some news about another group of people being laid off from their jobs in the wake of either bankruptcy or a desperate move to avoid bankruptcy. Some of this uncertainty hits home for me, too, given that educational institutions have also been hard-hit by the money crunch, and will have to make drastic changes in the near future. Fuller is no exception. They've already announced that, when the new library opens in January, it will be open for significantly fewer hours than we've been used to, in an attempt to keep down costs. I'm sure that more changes are on the way.

I sometimes wonder about what the world was like during the time Jesus was born into it. We know that Israel was under Roman occupation. Indeed, the circumstances and location of Jesus' birth came to pass in part due to a Roman decree. This must have contributed to an atmosphere of uncertainty to those who lived in the region, especially as they were displaced to take part in the census. We also know (in part due to the nature of the offering presented after Jesus' birth) that Mary and Joseph were poor, so we can add economic uncertainty to the list. I confess that I don't know how widespread people of Mary and Joseph's status were during that time, and thus want to be careful about trying to draw the analogy between the time of Jesus' birth and our time too closely, but for Mary and Joseph themselves, it's certainly safe to say that they were living in circumstances that we would be hard-pressed to argue as better than our own.

Of course, we also know that Mary and Joseph were given a renewed hope. First and foremost in the person of their newborn son, of course, but also in the visitors who came to see the baby. We specifically know that the Magi, when they came to visit Mary and Joseph some time after the actual birth, gave gifts. The Bible doesn't tell us what Mary and Joseph did with the gifts, which were quite valuable. Did they sell them to pay for some of their travel expenses? Did they use the perfumes and gold on special family occasions? Did they keep them so that Jesus could use them when he grew up? Even if Mary and Joseph didn't use the Magi's gifts for themselves, just having been given such precious items must have given them real, tangible financial security that it seems they did not have previously.

I have been blessed this Christmas season to see such tangible signs of hope, as well. A family member who had been searching for a new job after having been laid off months ago has finally found one. Another family member has finally moved into a new house after months and months of building and repair work (work that isn't finished, but at least it's finally livable). I myself have been blessed by tangible gifts small and large from many of my coworkers. Although I've worked at Fuller for eight years, there was something about this year that was unprecedented, and I struggle to find words to explain, other than to say that I've been touched by everyone's thoughtfulness and generosity.

So, this Christmas season, as we remember the birth of the one who is the source of all of our hope, I want to say not only "Merry Christmas," but "Thank you." I don't know what the future holds for any of us, and know that this season is definitely more uncertain for many of us than it has been in quite some time. I pray that this season is a time for celebration and hope in the midst of that uncertainty.

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