There is something wrong in our society when we define leadership as one where the ones described as leader do what they are told by those they are supposed to be leading. In this same vein I find it curious where the difference between arrogant leadership and strong leadership is basically defined by whether or not a person agrees with the tough decision a leader makes.
Our society needs more leaders – leaders who will do what is right even though it is unpopular, who will be strong in leadership even in the face of opposition. Leaders who will be willing to lead the people in a difficult direction even though they do not want to go to that place. Our society needs to identify those who are leaders and allow them to lead. Our society needs to be willing to go on journeys that may be uncomfortable and not preferable in order to discover the potentials of what we can be, to discover new ways of being, to discover new depths of what it really means to be community.
The Christmas event is full of such journeys.
In one of my favourite Christmas skits, a conversation between two angels in heaven:
“He’s going down himself.”
“I said, he’s going down!”
“Who told you?”
“This morning he called Michael and Gabriel and began to tell them, in front of us all, about ‘The Plan’.”
“Why do I always miss the good parts?”
“I hear he is planning of entering as a baby.”
“A baby, a humanette.”
“Incredible! But… but isn’t he taking a big chance? The security will be fantastic. Why, we’ll have to form a couple myriads of bodyguards twenty-four hours a day.”
“He’s going to be on his own.”
“What if ‘The Plan’ doesn’t work out the way we think? What if there is a lot of resistance to ‘The Plan’? Down there as a vulnerable human, why, he could get himself killed!”
The story of Christmas is a story of God on a journey into the difficult. God did not have to take on human flesh and dwell within his creation as Jesus Christ. I find it difficult to reconcile a God who, in sending his Son into the world, planned for him to die. Despite the references in gospels that seem to indicate Jesus predicting his own death, I can find other passages that support this was not a part of the plan. I can reconcile that God knew that the outcome was Jesus’ crucifixion, but it was not what he sent him for.
The world had become broken and God, in his divine leadership, chose to enter the broken world to bring about restoration. In the story of Christmas we are reminded of God’s choosing to undertake the difficult journey, the result was a victory of restoration even through the crucifixion of Jesus.
Joseph and Mary were a part of this plan of God. They too made a journey. Their journey was a little less metaphysical, the journey to Bethlehem from their home town of Nazareth. Their journey was a difficult one for two reasons. Firstly, it was a journey they didn’t choose to undertake. They travelled because they were required to register in the census in Joseph’s family town of Bethlehem and Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Secondly, it was a difficult journey because Mary was heavily pregnant.
The thought of travelling, as our Christmas legend would have it, on a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, does not thrill me as a male, let alone a pregnant female. But, the end result of entering the difficult journey, was the birth of Jesus. Not just his birth, but the significant place of his birth and Mary pondered on these things.
They would soon, as a threesome, make another journey. Again a journey they did not choose to make, but undertook at the warning of the angel, and King Herod’s attempt to kill the threat that the baby Jesus brought to him.
Then there were the shepherd out in the field on the night Jesus was born, watching over the flocks of sheep. It was winter in the northern hemisphere at that time. I am sure that they would have preferred to be in the warmth of their family home. I don’t know what their plans were for the night’s entertainment, but I am sure that it did not include the appearance of an angel, who told them to journey into the town to seek a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Their journey must have been of some risk. They took the journey, leaving behind the sheep, which they probably did not own, over which they kept watch, and they were amongst the first to discover new thing that the angels had told them.
We don’t read about the magi, or wise men, tonight, but they, too, journeyed. The journey of the magi, these wealthy traders with their entourage, may not have been difficult or risky in the same sense as other journeys, but it was difficult in the sense that they did not actually know where they were going. They followed a star and, as it turned out, made, understandably, a wrong turn at the palace of Herod before setting on their way again.
The result of the magi’s journey is profound. They are converted by their interaction with the Christ child, leaving their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and returning to their homelands by another route so as not to divulge to Herod the location of the baby Jesus.
In contrast to these people of journey into the difficult, Herod makes no journey. In fear of the threat of a baby called a king, he sends others to do his dirty work, and he is indiscriminate regarding the focus of his fear, having all children born around the time of Jesus birth killed.
The Christmas story is a story of love – the love of God for his creation. Psychologist, M Scott Peck argues that the true sign of love is not that romantic or sexual notion that our society seems to be continually trying to convince us. Rather, love is choosing to delay our own peace and security and enter into the difficult in order to bring about true peace and security. The opposite of love, then, is not hate but self-gratification and laziness – choosing not to enter the difficult journey.
We know too well the times we have postponed taking the difficult journey and the effects that it has on our relationships and our well-being as a community.
The Christmas story on one level is a nice and pleasant story. It is also a story, however, that challenges us because it is also uncomfortable. It calls us to be people who are not standing still, not staying in the same place, not staying in the same state of mind. The Christmas story calls us to be on a journey of discovery and inviting us into those things which are fearful and apparently destructive.
The greatest of these journeys, the one that seems to be most fearful, in this day and age, is the journey to believe in a God who will choose to act in surprising ways to bring about a society that is transformed and renewed.
This journey begins with Christmas, has its climax in Easter, but can only be brought to its fulfilment in you and me. As we choose to be leaders in our community and families, we choose to be those who lead others on a journey into the difficult of those things about which we are not satisfied. In doing so we can bring to a new and wonderful to birth of those things we long to have for the world.