Birthday candlesLife is full of rituals and cycles.
The cycles of nature that mark time and seasons:
Sunrise and sunset.
Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.
The phases of the moon.
The ploughing, sowing and reaping of crops.

The rituals of human behavior:
The casual ritual of greeting: “Hello, how are you?” — “Good, and you?”
The etiquette of shaking hands, exchanging a kiss on the cheek, and the hug.
Sending greetings and cards on someone’s birthday.
Candles on the birthday cake, making a wish.
Sending Christmas cards.
Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals.

These rituals are embedded in our cultures. They reach beyond words and tell us we belong.
They link us to each other and provide a foundation which helps us deal with a changing and uncertain world. They remind us that relationships cannot be taken for granted and that care must be taken to nurture and deepen the bonds that unite us.

As Christmas approaches we enter a time which is rich in rituals, both personal and spiritual. Cards, presents, parties, family dinners, carol singing, decorating the Christmas tree, fairy lights. This is a time for remembering the things that we know are important, but that can easily get lost in the busyness.

Christmas can also be a difficult time for those who are grieving loved ones or fighting their own personal battles. Take time to remember them in your celebrations.

The Christian year actually starts four weeks before Christmas Day and one of the rituals that we observe around this time is remembering the big themes of faith that are revealed in Jesus: hope, courage, joy and love.

The events of the last weeks in Paris, Beirut, and many other places are cause for sadness, disbelief, and bewilderment. The random and senseless death of so many.

This is indeed a time for cultivating hope, courage, joy and love.

Why? Because the alternative is to despair. To abandon hope, to lose courage, to fail to take joy in the good things of life and to love only those who love us is to allow the world to cave in upon itself. Mistrust and hatred grow when they are fed on the bread of despair and ill will.

May we choose to believe that evil is never the last word. May we stand together, fight when we must, but build tolerant and inclusive community. May we believe that the last word is love.

This is the message of Christmas, and it’s good news.