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A Christmas Reflection – 2019

Sometimes tears are unexpected. Most mornings for me begin in the kitchen with a cup of tea, reading the news with my two dogs curled on my lap. It’s a peaceful time before the day hits, when I try to intentionally open myself to Christ’s love for the world and to share my concerns and gratitude with him. So, it was a surprise one morning when I began to weep.

My emotions were stirred as I read an article about a project ‘A Rocha’, an International Conservation charity, has been developing in Lebanon. The project is a ‘collaboration with local partners to provide open spaces for public recreation and environmental education to serve the village of Mekse and its surrounding refugee communities’. Good conservation helps people as well as the natural world and part of this project involved creating farms in Mekse Park for Syrian refugees. As the people farm, they had a positive impact on the ecosystem and vice versa.

At first, I was puzzled by my reaction, but with reflection, I realise my tears came from a raw place in my soul. A place where there is little hope for our world and a feeling of being overwhelmed by work needed to bring positive change. The tears came from my powerlessness in the face of ‘the Powers’. Maybe reading the news first thing every morning is not so good for my wellbeing, as it confronts me with the destructive selfishness in our world. Why did reading a hopeful story lead to feelings of despair?

‘Through [Jesus] God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him. The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out’ (John 1: 2-4, GNT)

When light shines it pushes back the gloom. But, while a candle in a darkened room can cast a hopeful light, it can also highlight how vulnerable the flame is amid the shadows. I’m sure most of us know that small flames can easily become smouldering wicks or be snuffed out altogether. News stories of climate change, sexual abuse, war, politicians acting like playground bullies, as well as other things, remind us there are powerful forces which can threaten to extinguish the light of hope. Maybe, there are times when a story of hope can create a sense of despair, because hopeful stories can serve to highlight the enormity and personal cost of working towards God’s Kingdom rule in our world? A scripture came to mind as I reflected on this challenging truth.

‘The angel came to [Mary] and said, “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!” Mary was deeply troubled by the angel’s message, and she wondered what his words meant’ (Luke 1: 28-29, GNT)

There are many artworks depicting Gabriel’s announcement to Mary. In them she often looks serene and certainly not ‘deeply troubled’. Surely this can create a false expectation as to how we should feel when we encounter God’s Kingdom call in the context of the disturbing reality of our world. Far too often the Christmas story has been sanitised turning away from its disturbing aspects, aspects which have particular salience for our day – teenage pregnancy, refugee families fleeing persecution, homelessness, poverty, politicians murdering innocent people – these mirror many of the news stories I read each morning. Yet even with all this painful truth telling, the Christmas story remains one of hope.

This hope comes from the honesty of the story and our ability to associate with it. Hope springs from Mary’s courage in the face of uncertainty, adversity and her family’s vulnerability. I wonder what impact Mary’s spirituality had on Jesus as he grew. He certainly displayed some of the characteristics we see in his mother. He continued to live his life with courage in the face of the systems of domination. Even when these religious, cultural and political systems were to bring about his death, he chose not to play their game. Jesus met violence, oppression and cruelty, with peaceful resistance, love and forgiveness. He was the light shining in the darkness, but unlike other lights, his can never be snuffed out nor overcome. This brings me hope.

Reading about the refugee farms in the Mekse Park brought me to tears because of my conflicting feelings of hopelessness and hopefulness. It reminded me of the upside-down, confusing and paradoxical Kingdom Rule of God – Syrian refugees whose homeland is still being torn apart finding a home in a Lebanese nature reserve.

One of my dogs stirred as I wept that morning and looked at me quizzically, her face seeming to ask, ‘what are you crying about?’

More on A Rocha –

Revd Dr Adam Scott – Tutor for Ministerial Foundation for Northern College

Originally from Dublin, Adam moved to the UK to study psychology. He is a URC minister of Word and Sacrament with experiencing of ministering in chaplaincy, community and urban church settings in London. Adam is also a chartered Counselling Psychologist and has worked as a service manager, therapist and clinical supervisor in clinical and third sector organisations. He lives in Manchester with his husband and is an active part in the life of the North Western Synod of the URC.