Posted by Richard Perry on Dec 04, 2017
Our traditional cards show snowy scenes, well rugged up choristers singing lustily, and a robin perched on a branch pretending to a merry chirping, while freezing its …um, feet off. But as a New Zealand carol reminds us, here we have an upside-down Christmas.
Snow is not falling, trees are not bare, and we should carol the summer, warm in the sunshine and sweetness of air. The carol bids us:
To sing of the gold and the green and the sparkle, water and river and lure of the beach
Sing in happiness of open spaces
Sing a nativity summer can reach
Shepherds and musterers move over hillsides
Finding not angels, but sheep to be shorn
Wise ones make journeys whatever the season
Searching for signs of the truth to be born
The very term given to this season, the Christmas holidays, derives from the Christ Mass Holy Day, set-aside by the early western Christian church, to commemorate the nativity story. It’s therefore a time both secular and religious. For Christians the date is precious, commemorating the beginning of the Christian story; but I would like to suggest there are resonances in the story to modern issues, relevant not just to people who belong to Christian denominations, but also to those of other faiths, and people of non-religious philosophies.
Let’s look at the tougher bits.
The story begins with a husband wondering where this baby is coming from and doubting the fidelity of his partner. It continues with a couple caught up in the tax census of the Caesar Augustus, forced to journey long distances in wintry conditions, to the town of Joseph’s birth. No man should presume to know the discomforts of a woman’s pregnancy, but I imagine they would have been hard enough without being bounced up and down on the back of a donkey.
Imagine our reaction, if we were commanded by the Minister of finance, at our own cost and inconvenience, to return to our town of origin, just so he could check whether he had caught us all in his tax net! Our response now would be pretty rebellious and rude, unless of course the minister was backed by the same brutal all-powerful army, the Romans employed to enforce compliance.  And it was a journey to homelessness, at the vulnerable time of childbirth, as there was no room at the inn. The current equivalent would be a solo mum with a gaggle of kids, sleeping in a car. 2000 years ago, you couldn’t sleep in your mode of transport. I.e. a donkey; but perhaps the warmth provided by animals in a stable, in times when no-one worried about global warming caused by bovine flatulence, was a better deal than some of our homeless have today. And the oppression continues, with the flight of the family into Egypt as refugees, from a paranoid and tyrannical ruler called Herod.
But then, there are the good bits of the story. Joseph decides to have trust in his partner, in a culture where he could have perfunctorily divorced her by public declaration.  There is a successful birth, and a new baby is always time for family happiness and new hope. The occasion is a momentous event which the most menial workers, scraggy and no doubt smelly shepherds, share equally with the high borne travelling elite. For travelling out of the East, came three wise men, following a star, seeking wisdom, and seeking to pay respect to a predicted leader.  And eventually there was a ministry, which advocated, giving to the poor, finding peace, and showing love and compassion for one’s neighbour and the vulnerable.
And here today, through Rotary, I suggest we have a greater opportunity to do things for the poor and needy, to acquire wisdom to make compassionate judgments, and to care for neighbours, than did the peoples of 2000 years ago.
As a whole in New Zealand, we live further from the edge of poverty than most other countries on earth and can give time and talents without risk to ourselves or our families. With the benefit of news reporting media, Rotary infrastructure and speakers to our club, we can readily identify the points of need where we can assist.  And with the benefit of emails and the internet, we can more readily organise ourselves, and recruit support, to do a little to meet those needs.
I believe our club is doing good things already, to help those in need, whether it’s a need for food, healthier homes, or educational support; and those made vulnerable by mental disability. I commend you to maintain our efforts, and to always keep thinking of new ways in which we can do more to foster the ideals of Rotary, in a practical manner Perhaps as you sit in a deckchair in the holidays you will have time for some productive dreaming. And when we come back, refreshed from our break, we will engage in further works, that will help deliver a rebirth of hope, to someone in serious need.
In the words of that carol:
Right side up Christmas belongs to the universe
Made in the moment a woman gives birth
Hope is the Jesus gift, love is the offering,
Everywhere, anywhere, here on the earth.  
Now as to stars, from early times, people have always wondered what stars mean to their lives. And from the time mankind began travelling, whether by foot, camel or ship, stars were essential as a means of navigation. So, a star can be a metaphor, for something that illuminates us and guides our path through life.
My Christmas wish to each of you is that you find your own star, and by following it, you augment the wisdom and enrich the compassion already within you; and that this Christmas will be a particular time of inner peace and happiness, for you and your families.