The year 2002 will probably be remembered in the future as the year of Bali, and the year of the great drought. Although the most intense suffering in both happenings is reserved for those who were directly involved, nevertheless it would be true to say that Australia as a nation also suffered. The destruction of young innocent life at Bali caused us to grieve for those who lost their lives, for those who were physically injured, some permanently, and for their relations and friends. As well, Australians who have a love affair with the outback and an admiration for those who make their living from the land, were equally appalled by empty dams, scorched crops, and dying animals.
Some of us who lived through the Second World War, even more through the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and Malaysia, and most of us through the conflict in East Timor, regarded those conflicts as more or less distant happenings. Although all of us suffered to some extent, the separation of these events from our homeland Australia caused suffering and anxiety more to those involved than those who watched in safety from a distance. Terrorism however is different. It directly affects all of us and its irrationality adds a frightening new dimension to our anxiety. Its threat comes not from afar but from within, and the self immolation involved in its execution makes it almost impossible to predict or prevent. Moreover terrorism can cause a breakdown in social cohesiveness, making us suspicious of those in our midst who are in any way different, particularly if there is even the remotest connection with those who espouse terrorism.
The tendency to blame Muslims in general rather than a few radical fanatics is a constant challenge to our Australian sense of the fair go, particularly when the victims of terrorism are close relations or close friends.
The evil of drought also leaves us with a terrible sense of powerlessness, and drives us to pray for rain, and try to be as generous as possible in assisting spiritually, financially, and morally our drought stricken brothers and sisters. The unpredictability of both evils is a lesson in life, particularly in a world where our heady success in science and technology leads us to the mistaken belief that we can control the events of our lives, and can live without needing the comfort of religious belief, as so many Australians try to do.
However each year our blessed rhythm of life for a few brief days returns us to a season of the year when we are able to practise possibilities for a better world, as we think of other people and our families, give presents to our friends and the less fortunate members of our society, sing and rejoice together even if only at parties, and perhaps for the only time in the year participate in worship that focuses on the Child of Bethlehem. The message that accompanied the birth of the Christ Child was “Glory to God and peace to people of good will.” Grown to manhood, the Child of Bethlehem taught us that the only way to peace was to acknowledge God, and reach out to all people especially those we regard as less acceptable, and even if possible our enemies.
Christ proposed the way of acceptance and dialogue, rather than that of rejection and violence, a way that is onerous, demanding, and time consuming, but possible and fruitful. Sadly in our world of instant solutions it also demands a patience we do not always possess, particularly when we are the stronger party.
This Christmas let us ponder as a nation the wisdom of Bethlehem so that in 2003 we will try to work for a better world, not by the sword, which Christ rejected, but by dialogue and a willingness to share our resources with our less fortunate brothers and sisters both within and outside Australia. I hope that all of us in our hearts and our homes will experience a little of that blessed peace spoken of by the Angels at the first Christmas.