Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a sucker for Christmas music. It’s not just the traditional carols that I love, or even the pop star versions of the same, but also (and especially) the obscure Christmas songs penned by Christian groups from decades past.
As soon as it becomes socially acceptable to do so – around mid-November – I switch over to my Christmas playlist and begin my ‘preparations’ for Christmas.
One of my absolute favourite Christmas songs is by Christian band 4Him. I knew their music was going to be cheesy Christmas gold because, despite being a 1993 production, the cover of their The Season of Love Christmas album featured four guys with moustaches and sweater vests from the 70s and hairstyles from the 80s. Listening to the album, I wasn’t disappointed.
The final song, an original written by group members, is titled Strange Way to Save the World.
It tells the Christmas story from the perspective of St Joseph in a most delightful way.
It has St Joseph standing at the manger, looking at the Christ child and Our Lady, and wondering … why? Why him, “just a simple man of trade”? Why Mary, “just an ordinary girl”? Why Jesus, “with all the rulers in the world”? Why a stable filled with hay?
“Now I’m not one to second guess what angels have to say,” says St Joseph. “But this is such a strange way to save the world.”
I love it, because it’s just so human.
We grew up hearing the Christmas story and assembling nativity scenes and singing Away in a Manger, and considering it completely normal, but when you stop to consider it from the perspective of those who were actually there that holy night, surely you have to concede that it all would have seemed a little bit strange.
Think about it. St Joseph was told by an angel that Mary would give birth to the Saviour and that the Lord wanted him to take Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:20-24). He knew his role was to be the foster father and protector of the Messiah; there was no doubt about that.
But somewhere between having to return to his hometown for a census with a nine-month pregnant wife, to there being no place for them to stay, to her giving birth in a stable, St Joseph must have wondered whether or not it was all still going to plan.
It seems to me that there were only two options: either this was all part of God’s plan, and it was simply just “a strange way to save the world,” or it wasn’t going to plan, and it was very much a disaster.
Looking at the very same scene, either of those conclusions seems perfectly valid.
And the reason I really love this song is because the same is true in our own time, isn’t it?
Looking back on the “scene” that has been some of the challenges the Church has faced in 2019, I see everything from the commencement of euthanasia in Victoria to the passage of similar laws in WA, from the sneaky abortion laws being pushed through NSW to the religious freedom challenges at a state and federal level, from protections for the confessional seal being abolished almost everywhere to a Cardinal in prison … this year, more than others, looks like a disaster, a complete abandonment of God’s plan.
But what if it is just a “strange way to save the world”? What if we changed our perspective with that in mind?
Instead of focusing on euthanasia defeats in certain states in Australia, we can focus our attention on the witness of those who suffer heroically in many different situations, and the example of those who dedicate their lives to caring for them.
Instead of recalling the passage of extreme abortion laws, we can remember the thousands upon thousands who stood for life this year.
Instead of thinking about the abolishing of legal protections for the Seal of Confession, we can think about the courageous priests and bishops who have confirmed their commitment to the Seal and their willingness to suffer civil and criminal penalties to uphold it, and the anecdotal stories of more people attending confession in jurisdictions where the law has changed.
Looking at it from one perspective, we can see disaster. Looking from another, we can see an army of the faithful standing up and recommitting themselves to all things good, true and beautiful, ready to participate in God’s “strange way to save the world.”
Thank you all for being a source of hope throughout the challenges of 2019. A blessed Christmas to you and yours.