In these two years when the world has been reeling from waves of a pandemic, one of the most profound human experiences to be disrupted is our experience of community. Instead of colleagues down the corridor, we meet them on our screens. Instead of dinners with neighbours and friends, we talk 3 metres apart outdoors. Instead of going to church on Sundays, we plug in our devices or radios and listen to the preaching.
Community is vital to human flourishing. It is also one of SIM’s Core Values. While the conditions of the past two years may be historically unprecedented, disruptions to community life are not new. One such upheaval set the stage for the Christmas story we celebrate this very month.
Mary and Joseph’s normal community was stripped away from them, not by a virus, but by the census decree of a foreign occupier who wanted to fill the Roman coffers with tax money. Before Jesus was even born, he took his first of many journeys on this earth. Why would a God who designed humans to need community strip it away from this vulnerable young family at their moment of need?
Looking at the nativity scenes in my home two millennia later, I may begin to see a reason: perhaps God wanted to replace their familiar community with a God-appointed one. Our crèches do not display Mary, Joseph, Jesus and a flock of doting aunts, uncles, cousins, smiling grandparents, and neighbours bringing food. No, they include the improbable presence of local shepherds and foreign magi. The diverse fellowship gathered around the infant King was there because they responded to personal invitations from God – angels to beckon the shepherds and a star to summon the magi.
This year, we reviewed our Core Values, including “community”. Despite how fragile or unfeasible the practice of community may seem in times like this, we remain resolutely committed to it. Obeying our mission calling already brings displacement, and Covid lays new displacements on top of this. Yet, let us re-affirm our belief in the value of community, in the possibility of community, and in a definition of community that, while not necessarily ‘normal’, is even better; it is divinely appointed.
There will be times when any one of our Core Values becomes almost impossible to live out. That is when we need them the most. This Christmas season may each of you be blessed with renewed hope in the possibility of community and joy in the experience of it.