A few years ago, while in Adelaide, I was asked to visit a primary school, and to share some of my experiences taking people to Vietnam for outreach ministry.
While it was a State School, the staff were mostly Christian, and while they didn’t use their position to preach the Gospel, their leadership was marked by genuine Christian love and respect for all people. There were kids from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” there. It had a great spirit. It was a place where kindness lived.
They had some great programs and ideas. One little girl would run out of class in fear a number of times through the day. This led to a frantic search for her each time. Eventually, through compassion and care, they managed to teach her that when she ran out of the class, she hid in a broom closet outside the class. She could still feel safe, but they were also safe in that they knew where she was, and could check on her. What a smart idea, I thought. Over time, she learned that the people there loved her, and she was always safe, and then eventually she ran out of the class no more.
Their leadership mantra was quite simple. They separated all behaviours and attitudes and actions into one of two kinds.
We can act out of fear and anger.
Or we can act out of courage and love.
And courage and love was their guiding light.
I feel so much of the Christmas story, including what we hear today, is about acting out of courage and love. A young couple, not yet married, faced with the enormity of bearing, and raising a child with the hopes of the world on his shoulder. A pregnancy and birth like no other. Conceived in circumstances which seem unbelievable. Which probably would have led to terrible shame and ridicule amongst those who had no idea. Which one answer from an angel would have probably led to another thousand unanswered questions.
They could have run out of the run and hid. They could have protested vehemently for all the right reasons. They could have acted through fear and anger.
But they acted singularly and together with courage and love.
They chose to face this future with courage. A courage born out of deep faith.
And they faced it with love. Their love of God, their love of each other, and their love for the child they were bringing into the world.
Truly, this Christmas, “God is with us”.
Peter Gardiner is a Passionist priest, presently teaching English to Passionist students in Vietnam.