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The season of Advent (January 2020)

Dear Friends

I have been asked to write the opening letter for this month’s Newsletter, and as I write, the news of England’s defeat in the rugby has been sent around the world. This is the sad end to a time of looking forward in hope for England, and rejoicing for South Africa.

Looking forward has been part of the nation’s life for some months now - with deadlines to meet, and miss, plans for the future to dream about and hope for or dread. We ask ourselves if there is going to be a light at the end of the very long tunnel which has been ahead of us for a long time, but which seems to take a darkening turn all too often, so that the light appears to have been extinguished.

Now in the churches we begin to focus on our looking forward to Christmas and all that it means.  You will probably read this magazine at the beginning of the Christian season of Advent.  I heard a radio presenter the other day asking a little boy what he thought Advent was about.  His quick reply was, ‘Lots of chocolate.’  When I was growing up, I did not know what an Advent calendar was. Now there are many to choose from, some carrying chocolate for each day, and a small number labelled ‘religious’ in the shops.

Originally, I think each day with its little door to open, contained a picture relating to the time of waiting before the 25th of December, where there was a picture of the holy family in the stable because ‘there was no room for them in the inn.’  The story of Christmas by- passes many children in the present climate, except as a time for getting very expensive presents and planning to go out and change the ones which do not seem very exciting.  Living as we do, in a multicultural, diverse, beautiful society, children and adults alike are learning about many religions and traditions - all meaningful for those who follow them, and interesting, I think, in that they all make use of the symbol of light.

For many people today the light is very weak, and concentration is needed to catch a glimpse of it.  We all know about families where life is dark, unhappy and frightening - perhaps without anything to make it worth living. We see homeless people in our doorways and on our streets, and feel helpless and indeed guilty that we live in warmth and with full stomachs.  The reality of this local situation is sometimes lost in the news of children without clean water or a place to live.  All this is too much for us to take in, and we are tempted to put the problems to the back of our minds. 

However, as Christians, we look forward to the story leading up to Christmas - the story of a young woman, heavy with child, and her older husband, taking seriously his responsibility for her as they travel to their birthplace for the census.  They hoped for and looked forward to a room to stay for her delivery, but arrived to the same answer wherever they knocked the door. 

‘No room.’  Here was the mother of the Son of God, as foretold by prophets as the ‘light of the world’, and there was nowhere for his mother to rest for his birth.  As the decorations are hung, trees are decorated, carols are sung and played in shops and on street corners, may we look again at the Advent candles,  one,  then two,  then three, then four and then the light of Christmas in the centre of them all, and go forward towards that light which will not be overcome.

My father, who had a very strong influence on my life, was very ill for some years.  He had three major heart attacks and said that through them all he clung to one text from the Bible –

‘The light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has never overcome it.’ 

That did not mean that he thought he was immortal. He was aware of the possible end to his earthly life, but he truly believed that there was light at the end of the tunnel through which he was travelling.  He also told me that at that time he found great comfort in hymns.  As I have grown older, I have found the same to be true.  I think others will agree. Hymn writers often shed a new light on a familiar experience. George Matheson was surely thinking of the Light of the world shining on in the darkness when he wrote,

‘O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee,
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
My brighter, fairer be.’

In all that dismays us, troubles us, alarms us or overwhelms us, may we be strengthened by the ‘Light which has come into the world and the darkness has not overcome it.’

May we all have a truly happy Christmas and look forward with hope to 2020.     

Rose Pope