Not knowing what is going to happen can produce all sorts of feelings, such as worry, hope, desperation, confidence, resignation, determination, excitement and so on. The ‘night before’ can last a long time. Sleeplessness can lead to hours spent thinking about possible outcomes. Anticipation could build up to excited expectation or fear of failure. The suspense can be filled with nightmares of things that could go wrong or dreams of glittering success.
We don’t know what it was like for Mary, the night before Jesus was born. The stories we have are not meant to be biographical accounts but ways of expressing the importance of who Jesus was. If Jesus was Mary’s first child, then there was probably some anxiety as well as hope. Giving birth then was, and still is in some cases, a significant risk to the life of mother and the unborn child. A safe delivery would be greeted with joy and relief.
For us the Christmas story does not hold that sense of the unknown. It is not a matter of uncertainty, nor is it unpredictable. It is probably familiar to most of us, even if it is surrounded by so much embellishment and the weight of centuries of interpretation.
Contrast that with the experience we can look forward to of New Year’s Eve. This is a situation where we do not know what will happen next year. It is unpredictable, uncertain and for many it will be filled with a mixture of anxiety and hope. The approach of a new decade, the ‘twenties’, holds contrasting possibilities. It will be a crucial decade for responses to the climate emergency. Changing weather patterns are likely to be more disruptive than ever. Politically, it is likely to be a period of turmoil with so many places experiencing unrest, confrontation, and violence. But there are also reasons for hope, for example in the attitude of young people to our global circumstances. Goodness and kindness will not disappear, nor will the willingness of many to be good neighbours to those in need.
In fact, it is the thought that ‘kindness produces wonders’ that gives me hope. If we can be kind not only to those who are kind to us, but also to those with whom we disagree, and those who are different from us, then there is a possibility of wonderful changes happening. Friendships can blossom, hostility can be replaced with trust, and ways of cooperating can lead to peace.
When we find ourselves going through the ‘night before’ and filled with conflicting emotions, perhaps we can resolve to be kind to ourselves and to others, whatever happens. We may be pleasantly surprised with the wonders that unfold.