2019 - AND THE COMING OF THE LIGHT
I'm writing shortly before Christmas, on the Feast Day of St. Lucy - Santa Lucia - whose name in Latin is linked to the Latin word for 'light.' There's clearly a parallel between this, the feast day of a saint whose name means 'Light', in the very midst of winter, and the celebration which is now so close- the great festival of the light shining in the darkness, and which the darkness has not overcome: the celebration of Christ-mass.
So what is the story of St. Lucy? Legend has it that she lived at the beginning of the fourth century, when the authority of the Roman Empire was trying to re-establish the worship of gods they approved, among them, the Roman Emperor. Lucy got into trouble as a young Christian, who gave away everything she had to the poor, much to the irritation of the man to whom she was betrothed, who saw all his expectations of material gain from the marriage disappearing in an act of Christian generosity. He betrayed her to the authorities, and she was put to death for her faith in the year 304: a martyr in the cause of resisting idolatry, and refusing to allow God to be dethroned in her heart by lesser beings and lesser values. It's possible to this day to visit the church in Rome dedicated to her memory, which claims to have her relics, and is said to stand over the remains of the house in which she lived.
So where in this might be a message for our times? Perhaps here. That as 2018 draws to a close, we are tossed about by anxieties and troubles over the future of our country, its government, and its furture relations with Europe and with the world more widely. There have been alarming levels of bitterness, division and faction within our political class and even within our communities over the prospect of our departure from the European Union. And so much of this is driven by a dynamic which seems so often to be about gain and loss, about levels of prosperity, about our economy. And of course we need a sound economy, if we are to have so many of the things which make for a better life - for health care, for education, for decent public services, and so on. But there are other values to be fought for and upheld in all of this. No amount of material prosperity profits us in the end as a society if our connectedness to one another is destroyed and access to these things is restricted: if the prosperity of the few rests on denying those benefits to the many. At Christmas what Christians celebrate is the birth of the Son of God, the coming and everlasting Prince of Peace, as a baby born in a stable: the one Christians see as the source of light, the Light of the World, in the midst of the world's darkness, into a country with no freedom, under the heel of the Roman oppressor. What has the Christian Church to say to us in such a time as this? Perhaps that there are other values even more important than the economic: that our future happiness lies just as much in the quality of our relationships, of our belonging together, of our care for one another and for the less well-off and the vulnerable. That there is joy and peace to be found quite apart from our material circumstances- and it's remarkable how often the poorest peoples of the earth seem able to sing and dance and rejoice in the good things they enjoy, in a way all too often lost to us.
So for 2019 let me wish you indeed a Happy - and a prosperous - New Year. And through and beyond the present uncertainties, whatever may be the outcome in the short, medium or longer term, the blessing of God upon you, upon those for whom you care, and upon us all.