Those who have been following my blogposts will notice that this post is a few days late. I have been struggling to formulate a seasonal blessing. We are nearing the end of Advent, and I am aware that Christmas is a time of grief and stress rather than joy and celebration for many people.
I am especially thinking of those who have lost loved ones. I recently saw the Covid memorial wall in London - the wall of hearts stretches almost all the way from Waterloo Bridge to Lambeth Bridge! It made the scale of the losses more tangible.
There are also daily reports of people struggling with heating and food bills, the refugee crisis, continued wars in Europe and beyond, dying children and the climate crisis. So what is there to celebrate?
However, when I pondered the biblical accounts of Christmas, it struck me that our time is not so different from 2,000 years ago. The story may look cute in nativity plays, but the experience on the ground would have been extremely challenging: Injustice, inadequate shelter, the death of innocent children - some of the many existential challenges that feature in the Christmas story...
With all the negative news, I have recently been challenged to look for signs of hope.
One tangible sign grew right on our doorstep. A sunflower started blooming outside our front garden on 1st December. It grew near a west-facing, imposing oak tree. Not much sunlight to be had to encourage its growth - yet it had grown anyway. Not as fast and not as tall as other sunflowers, but it bid its time. Once the oak tree had dropped its leaves, it had its moment of glory. It reminded me that Christmas is a story of perfect timing and survival against the odds.
Christmas is also a story of transformation. I love the way T.S. Elliott envisages the physical and spiritual journey of the wise men or kings, who traditionally followed a star all the way from the East to Bethlehem to honour Jesus as the true king of the universe - you can read the poem with some interpretations here.
So here is my blessings for you for this season:
May you find signs of hope and encouragement in unexpected places.
May you be able to say that your life's journey, no matter how hard and difficult in places, was ultimately worthwhile as you encounter Emmanuel - God with us.