Reflection for Advent III

By Revd Canon Helen Cameron,
Chair of Northampton District of the Methodist Church

One of the joys of my role as Chair of a Methodist District that includes Milton Keynes
but also includes Loughborough, Leicester and the Chilterns is the infinite variety of my work.
I can be in the centre of Milton Keynes at Christ the Cornerstone for a meeting one night
and the next night be chairing a meeting in a tiny country chapel in deepest Leicestershire.
I have learnt to carry a torch in winter so that I can light my path,
see where I am walking and not fall over into mud
or on one glorious occasion – the village duck pond.

We all need light to flourish, to be healthy and to grow
and that is true not just for plants but also for people.
My husband, whose hobby is astronomy or stargazing
tells me there are very few locations in the UK that are truly dark –
many urban communities are over-lit and light pollution can be a problem and stars can’t be seen.
The little island of Sark in the Channel Islands promotes visits to its ‘dark skies’
for those who want to see and study stars.
Darkness is therefore not always a bad thing
and sometimes we learn things in the dark, from the dark.
Dark is necessary.

It is, I think, what we do with darkness that matters.
Most of us get to rest then, and we are thankful for those who work and serve others in the night.
Some people abuse the darkness to do evil things and that makes some people nervous of the dark.
Darkness itself is not evil but what we choose to do in it and with it can hurt others.
The darkness can feel overwhelming, can exacerbate our hurts and fears
until we no longer feel able to tell if we are running from monsters or frightened of shadows.
This time of year can be hard.
Christmas as a season is hard when you feel dislocated from the joy and celebration.

But because Christmas is not all about feeling cheerful,
or pretending we’re not hurt or afraid, I think that is understandable.
Christmas is about hope,
about recognising that even the deepest darkness is no longer impenetrable
because the light has come.
Light is the first notes of the trumpets of salvation,
the light will prevail, the darkness will be quenched.
We can say, even when we don’t feel it, that hope has come to us.

In the opening verses of John’s Gospel we read the hope-filled and stirring words,
‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it”

We are, as God’s beloved children, the followers of Jesus of Nazareth,
called to give an account for the hope that is in us as I Peter 3: 5 reminds us.
This should be a hope not just that we and those we love
might survive the current global Covid-19 pandemic unscathed
but that in the darkest of days for all the citizens of the world
the light of Christ might shine brightly in us and through us so that we reflect the glory of God.

David Frost interviewing Archbishop Desmond Tutu on television many years ago
said to him, ‘Archbishop, you strike me as an optimist.
How do I stay optimistic with all that I know about the world and human nature?’
Archbishop Tutu replied with passion, ‘Optimist? That is far too weak a word for a Christian.
I see the same world you do. I know the same human weaknesses.
I am not an optimist, rather, I am a prisoner of hope. My faith gives me hope.’

Hope is not always about being able to remove the darkness in our lives, and the life of the world.
We are living through a pandemic; more than 58 thousand lives lost in the UK alone.
Covid-19 has affected those of the black and Asian communities more than any other.
Elderly family members, my own father included, died without their loved ones present
to hold them as they took their last breaths.
Many in care homes are lonely and those who live with dementia
denied that which comforts and helps them.
Children miss their grandparents; young people can’t find work
and many especially in the hospitality and retail sectors face redundancy.
There is a lot to be sad about. However, …

We can and must give an account of the hope that is in us even when so much is uncertain
during this time of pandemic and lockdown and limitation and loss
because we believe God is author of all, the giver of life, of every breath
and he holds us all in a loving embrace.
So we believe nothing and no-one is ultimately lost
and we believe nothing can separate us from the love of God seen in Jesus Christ our Lord.
We are people of hope.
We have a hope that is based, not on how the world looks on any one day,
or on the progress of humanity to think of others rather than themselves,
but based on the word made flesh and come among us.
Our hope flows from our knowledge that God is with us,
bearing our burdens and healing our wounds.
God is with us transforming us, redeeming us,
making a place for us in the eternal life of God and at the very last, bringing us safe home.

So what do we do in the darkness?

A friend of mine was born and raised in Wales;
he speaks Welsh first and English as a second language.
He told me a story once I have never forgotten.
He was visiting his grandparents on the island of Anglesey
and they had taken him with them to their chapel where there was a festival of hymn singing going on.
The chapel was full, three hundred people singing in four-part harmony.
It was wonderful and beautiful and stirring.
Then the lights went out and the entire chapel was plunged into darkness.
What had happened? A power cut!
Sion said he has never forgotten what happened next –
there was no hesitation, no laughter, no interruption,
what happened was that people went on singing in the dark.
They went on singing, in the dark.

You might find this an unhelpful image when we are missing congregational singing so much
but I hope that you can see beyond the immediate circumstances
to the strong metaphor at the heart of this story.
The people in that Welsh chapel went on with their praise and glory of God
whatever the prevailing circumstances were,
nothing (not even a power cut) was going to cut their worship short.
Impressively, they were so familiar with what they were singing
that they knew the words of praise by heart, they didn’t need to be able to see a book.
They were familiar with praise.
This group of Christians were determined and faithful,
not easily put off their stride, they persisted.
The light of their faith continued to shine despite the darkness around them.

So, what of us this Advent 2020?

We are called to be persistent in our faith and in our prayer in a year like no other
and to keep praising God, to be kind and generous,
to reflect the light of Christ in our relationships, our communities, our bubbles and our groups of six.
God is with us. Thanks be to God.

The light shines in the darkness and it cannot be overcome.