We are living in an increasingly polarized world. The gap between opposing sides are widening ... and that gap seems to be driven wider daily ... with anger ... hostility ... hatred ... often stirred up and enflamed by very powerful vested interests.
· Blind prejudices are overcoming reason ... and any rational debate.
· It is affecting all sorts of issues ...from the minor to the major. The climate debate and mining ... refugee policy ... racial policy ... sexual orientation ... left and right of politics ... unions and business ...
· I think we on King Island are about to begin our own local version ... to wind farm or not to wind farm.
Joking aside the worlds increasing polarization and ramping up of hate rhetoric is producing tragic results.
The end of the last century I think saw the end of the divide between communist and democratically elected governments. At the time of the change of the millennium it seemed possible that the world was on the brink of being able to enjoy a lengthy period of comparative peace ... but it appears that the world needs conflict ... because into that gap of peace came a new topic of struggle and anger ... a new reason to hate ... a new excuse to go to war. A new reason for old men to stir up the young to hurl insults ... hurl hate ... hurl rocks ... and aim bullets.
You may have been lucky this week and missed a story from Pakistan. In a series of attacks eight young ... dedicated nurses ... male and female have been senselessly killed while going about their compassionate service trying to help Pakistan eradicate polio. Polio ... a crippling disease ... often affecting the young ... the children ... and if they survive ... often leaving the child crippled for life.
In a country without a good social welfare system like Pakistan ... this is a sentence to slow starvation ... begging daily in rags in the street ... being ignored by everyone ...
Not a thing you would wish on your worst enemy.
For some years now the United Nations have been working with the Pakistani government on a plan for this diseases eradication. Enter the Taliban ... who sees in this an opportunity to enflame the passions of the vulnerable. They have been spreading the rumour that the immunisation programme has all be a front in order to sterilize Muslims.
The result of this irrational hate campaign ... Eight lives lost so far ... an immunization program that could end the suffering of hundreds of children and adults every year is in doubt.
· What hope does the world have in the face of this level of prejudice and hatred?
Enter a baby in a manger.
There were great social, cultural, political and religious prejudices and hatreds in the community and the culture into which this special baby was born.
· No one liked the Romans ... they had conquered and ruled Israel.
· But there was a much older hatred against Israel’s long time opponents and foes ... Babylon (who had conquered them) ... Egypt (the land they were enslaved in and with God’s help escaped from).
· Israel’s neighbours ... the Samaritans were despised (who Babylon resettled there after taking the Israel’s who inhabited that land originally into exile).
· The poor ... Jews who had the wrong sort of job (tax collecting, people who kept pigs) ... those who lived outside the towns and cities (the shepherds, lepers the ritually unclean, the sexually promiscuous) were all thought to be being punished by God for their sins.
It is interesting to read the Jesus’ birth narrative and see just how many of these people feature in that short story.
· Mary ... the mother of Jesus is an unmarried woman. She could by keeping to the letter of the laws have been stoned.
· The shepherds ... outcasts ... not trusted by the people who lived in the cities and towns
· Shortly after His birth the Babylonians become involved ... the wise men from the east.
· They visit Herod the Roman puppet King seeking the child who they foretold one day would be king.
· When Herrod in fear went searching to kill this child ... the baby’s family become what we today would class as refugee ... people fleeing their country of birth because they had a reasonable fear of harm because of who they were.
And as Jesus grew we read of him meeting ... talking with lepers ... Samaritans ... Roman soldiers and officers ... often healing them ... tax collectors ...encouraging them and having them believe in him and them following him ... joining his small group of followers.
Jesus broke open the prejudices and hatreds that kept people apart ... that provided a fertile ground for increasing the distrust that leads to hatred and in extreme cases ... violence.
Jesus did it by becoming one of us. God did it by becoming human. The incarnation ... is about God becoming a person and participating fully in all that it means to live a human life.
· It becomes possible to believe anything and everything of people we know nothing about. They could be plotting to sterilize our children ... they could be making bombs to blow up our stadiums in their garages ... they could ... fill in any wild claim you can think of.
· But when we see these same people ... and get to know them ... their hopes ... dreams ... concerns ... when we see people are not that different from us ... it becomes a lot more difficult to be prejudiced ... it become impossible to hate people if we see that they are not much different from us.
· That is what the baby in the stable did. He showed us what it is to be human in the very best and fullest sense of the term. What it is to love other people more than oneself. What it is to risk all for the sake of a stranger.
· And Jesus calls us who believe to live his incarnate life ... so prejudices might break down ... so faith might grow ... so a new redeemed people might be the salt and light in this world.
So that God might be glorified by the people of this world no matter what group they may have by accident of birth been born into.
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace to people on whom his favour rests”