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A Christmas call to revolutionary patience


“Wherever we see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, we see the dawn which came in the birth of Jesus Christ slowly becoming the full light of day,” says Archbishop Phillip Aspinall in his Christmas 2019 message

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“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9.2a)

Isaiah was speaking in his own day about the darkness of a foreign occupying military power that was oppressive and cruel. But a child was born who might one day become king. The birth of that child gave new hope to the nation

The darkness persisted. The military power still occupied the land. The people were still treated harshly. But now there was something more. A light had dawned and there was something other than darkness, something that resisted darkness, something that refused to be shut out by darkness, something that gave people hope.

In our day we do not have to look far to find darkness. It does not take the same shape as in Isaiah’s day, but darkness is here nonetheless.

The darkness of drought is threatening lives and livelihoods and causing great suffering for families on the land. We are shocked that financial institutions we trusted have failed millions of times and exposed children to abuse. Aged care places fail and harm our frail elderly people. Corruption seems to resist all attempts to root it out. Domestic violence makes the lives of many women and children unbearable. Darkness in all its shapes and forms and guises – personal, institutional, cosmic – threatens to overwhelm and devour us.

But the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. The birth of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago points us to a new and different kind of future. That future is not fully and completely here yet. The darkness has not been totally banished. That day is still to come. But for those with the eyes to see the future, it has dawned. It has begun. It is here. We have seen the breaking dawn of a new future, in the birth of a child, and the full light of day will follow.

This dawn gives rise to hope and joy, which in turn generate a special kind of patience. It is not passivity. It is a more active anticipation. Things might be dark and difficult at the moment, but something better is coming and we can be active in welcoming it, pointing to it, working for it.

The South African poet Breyten Breytenbach wrote about what he called ‘revolutionary patience’. He said:

It is not enough to rail against
the descending darkness of barbarity.
. . .
One can refuse to play the game.
A holding action can be fought.
Alternatives must be kept alive.
While learning the slow art of
revolutionary patience.

‘Revolutionary patience’ is born of a deep joy that itself stems from a profound hope for a better future. That is why we refuse to play the game as it is now. Something better can be. A brighter future is coming.

“Wishful thinking” you might say. But this possibility is closer than you might think. This holding action is at your fingertips. The alternative is as close as your breathing. We can see the beginnings taking shape already.

Wherever we see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, we see the dawn which came in the birth of Jesus Christ slowly becoming the full light of day.

I hope that each time we see these signs of the Spirit of Christ we might feel a little stirring of revolutionary patience; might feel the thrill of deep joy and hope, even in the midst of darkness; that we might take up God’s invitation to live generously, gently, peacefully, and so make our contribution to the coming reign of Christ.

Watch the Archbishop’s Christmas message, and share the message on social media.

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