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Waiting for the Messiah in imperfect times

It is nearly Christmas but Sarah-Leah Pimentel finds it difficult to focus on the meaning of the season in the midst of bad news and other daily distractions. She has found that while it is might not be possible to totally withdraw from the busyness, she looks for the Christ Child amid the day-to-day events.

It’s less than a week to Christmas.

It’s been a difficult year for South Africa. The economy remained stagnant and jobs elusive. The general election was a lacklustre event and (once again) campaign promises did not translate into tangible improvements in the lives of the poorest members of our society.

Popular frustration at the lack of everything spilled out into xenophobic violence and senseless murders of women and children. Foreign nationals, fed up by the continued abuse suffered in South Africa, camped out at the UN offices, seeking some kind of redress with increased frustration. Their presence drew the anxiety of property and business owners in Cape Town and Pretoria. The police added to the violence by brutally removing the migrants.

And just as we were easing into the holidays, we were hit with the annual year-end bout of load shedding, with Eskom providing the now predictable excuses of wet coal, infrastructure breakdowns, maintenance requirements, lack of money to keep the lights on…

It’s less than a week to Christmas.

With the exception of isolated boosts to our national pride offered by the Springboks on bringing home the Rugby World Cup and the crowning of Zozibini Tunzi as Miss Universe, there’s not been a whole lot to celebrate.

It’s less than a week to Christmas.

If I look at the world around me, things are no brighter beyond our borders. The Amazon is burning. Australia is burning. Terrorists in Mozambique and Nigeria ravage villages. Corruption is  rife throughout Africa. Politicians around the world use the politics of difference and division to sow distrust and fear in exchange for votes. The Church that professes itself to be “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” is fractious and divided on a number of theological and social issues.

It’s less than a week to Christmas.

How is it possible to find the peace, joy, love and beauty of the coming of Christ, when any vestiges of those fruits of the Holy Spirit are in such short supply in our society? As Christmas becomes ever more secularised, finding the spiritual and the religious significance of this season becomes really difficult, distracted as we are by last minute shopping, holiday plans, and the never-ending list of work tasks that must be completed before closing the office door for a few days.

Finding the spiritual and the religious significance of this season becomes really difficult.

It’s less than a week to Christmas.

What are we waiting for? Like the Israelites of old, we are waiting for a Messiah. We are waiting for someone who can restore order in our world, to bring justice and righteousness to those who have none, to remove proud leaders from their thrones. We are waiting for something new to break through in a world that seems to be falling apart.

It’s less than a week to Christmas.

More than 2 000 years have passed and the world is not substantially different to the one in which God came among us as a human child. There is no perfect time for Christmas. But each year, Christmas comes. Each year, Christmas is a time in which “deep calls out to deep” (Psalm 42:7), stirring cold hearts and minds.

Herod missed all the signs and, after Jesus was born, all he saw was the threat of a new world that needed to be destroyed. The Herods of this world are also threatened by possible change to the status quo that keeps them in power and the poor on the margins of society.

The shepherds heard the angels’ voices and came to see the Christ Child. Seekers also saw the star and came in the hope that they would find a new promise. They recognized Jesus because they believed that a new world was possible.

Despite the vexing problems of our age, here and there ordinary people still hear the voice of hope, announcing good news that a new world is possible, that God’s kingdom can come into our world. Visionaries still follow the star of their ideals and slowly lead others to see things in a new way.

Ordinary people still hear the voice of hope, announcing good news that a new world is possible.

It’s less than a week to Christmas.

Will we succumb to the hopelessness around us, or will we allow Christmas, the birth of the Child, the Messiah, to change us from within? Will we enter 2020 unchanged, or will we enter the New Year with a different vision – a different way of doing and seeing things?

It’s less than a week to Christmas…

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.