As one year comes to an end and a new one begins there is much to feel depressed and ashamed about, and little to lift our spirits, both in the world at large and in the behaviour of our own Government. “Where has God been in all this?”, we might ask, “Where is God now?”
Jesus seems to have seen His ministry primarily in terms of announcing the coming and the presence of the Kingdom of God, its reality here now, in signs to which He drew peoples’ attention. St Matthew in his gospel saw the coming of wise men from the East at Jesus’ birth as such a sign. Typically of God it’s an unexpected and strange sign. Astrologers of a different religious faith or faiths, come following a star and bring gifts for the newborn infant and then depart having been warned in a dream by God to do so. Christians are often rather doubtful about astrology, but it served the wise men well enough, and led them to recognise God’s activity where hardly anyone else did. They brought the baby prophetic and perceptive gifts: nobody else brought him presents. A God Who’s voice they recognised spoke to them in a dream & they took the message seriously, albeit doing so might have placed them in danger from King Herod’s anger. They seemingly took nothing away with them, and unlike the shepherds to whom we’ve shown no curiosity, we’ve puzzled over who they were ever since. Over the years they’ve been given names and racial identities. They’ve been depicted representing the three ages of man. There’s been speculation over what three wise women might have brought as gifts. We’ve made up stories of a fourth wise man who arrived late and continued seeking the Christ-child for the rest of his life, and there’s a woman called Baboushka with whom they stayed on their journey, and who promised to follow them with gifts for the child but who also arrived late and has continued taking gifts to children at Christmas ever since. It is typical of God to have acted thus through the actions of seemingly unlikely people, who then disappeared from history if not from our imaginations.
Its a pattern of behaviour that we read about often in the Bible, and it continues: God bringing in the Kingdom, under the radar, and through seemingly unlikely men and women who then disappear, and most of us not noticing it.
There’s been quite a lot of it I reckon in these last few, otherwise depressing, years. Let me name some of the ones I’m aware of, although I’m sure that you will have been aware of others.
There has been a great deal of individual and community kindness, a willingness amongst the staff of the NHS and others to go well beyond the call of duty. There’s a young, previously unknown, Swedish woman, Greta Thunberg calling on world leaders to address the issue of Climate Change; there’s Raheem Stirling, a young black footballer from west London championing the cause of Black Lives Matter; there’s another young black English footballer, Marcus Rashford shaming our government into action on behalf of hungry children; there’s Chris Packham campaigning on behalf of the natural world; there’s an assortment of people nurturing healing through the encouragement of our creativity, Grayson Perry, Bob Ross and David Hockney; there’s Jay Blades and his co-workers in The Repair Shop putting considerable creative skills into the realising of peoples’ dreams and the deepening of their connections with loved ones who have died; there’s Chris Whitty staying calm, wise and trustworthy, when others were not; and there’s Gareth Southgate & the England football team modelling a community of mutual respect & togetherness when others were doing otherwise.
I don’t know whether any of the above claim a religious faith. I don’t think it matters. I doubt if they were fully aware of the value of what they were doing. What I see and delight in, is the way that God is using them to bring in The Kingdom in all manner of important ways. And behind them stand others who remain hidden. This is where God has been, and always will be: acting through seemingly unlikely men and women, mostly un-noticed and un-named, offering their care and their gifts to others and so keeping love and hope alive, while offering a model of a better world, the Kingdom of God.