By Jason Michael
Our greatest mystery is that we are time travellers. As often as we read these words and remember such things, we are taken on an anemnetic pilgrimage to a place in another time to see again the promised hope of justice and peace in a crib perfected.
Through the wee small hours this morning as we read the Gospel of the Christmas vigil Mass I was touched by the scenery. Nothing was to be seen in the pitch blackness of the night through the windows of our small chapel. Inside however, the stage was being set for the timeless drama of Bethlehem and the setting and scenery was set with the words: “While Quirinius was governor of Syria all went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth…” Our story begins with a reference to a place in time, two millennia ago and the Roman province of Syria where a certain Publius Sulpicius Quirinius had been appointed governor by the young Gaius Octavius – Emperor Caesar Augustus.
As often as I have read these words, and as familiar as they are to me, I have never realised the importance of Syria in these readings. It was important enough for the Evangelist St. Luke to record, and today I suppose – considering the place of Syria in all our minds – it is well worth a little of our attention. Now that I come to think of it, it was at Damascus in Syria that the scales fell from the eyes of St. Paul before he set out with the message of the Risen Lord. Syria then becomes a place of transition in the sacred scriptures of the Christian faith; it is where the story of the birth of Jesus begins and it is where the story of world’s largest religion begins. This Syria, the Syria of the Gospel, is never an end. It is a place of beginnings.
Right now Syria strikes us as a place of terrible and horrible endings, a country rent asunder by the violence of war and unimaginable bloodshed. We have heard of a revolution gone wrong, internecine sectarian conflicts, the brutality of a despotic state, and powerful foreign intervention on every side. As surely as the events of Joseph and Mary’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem were not in the official dispatches of Quirinius, neither are the countless present day Josephs and Marys in the reports coming from the many no-man’s-lands in this atrocious conflict. Their trials and fears are lost in the din of gunfire and aerial bombardment. Their helpless babies are all but unknown to us. Theirs is the Syria of dread and end.
“Glory to God in the highest”, tonight’s Gospel continues, “and on earth peace…” And on earth peace! When have we known peace from that time to this? When did this great messianic age of perfection and peace among all people dawn upon us? It never did, and Syria is the latest line and response in the ongoing litany of war that rages everywhere humanity sets its feet. Yet as the Gospel carries our small gathering to first century Syria once again the scales are made to slip from our eyes as we see a place of beginning – where today or tomorrow peace can begin. This isn’t the world peace of beauty pageants, but the peace that costs – that transcends all our understandings, and begins with something as wonderfully hopeful as a mother and father lovingly protecting their child.
Il Divo – O Holy Night
Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)