With overarching imagery, our sacred story looks to the light. Called by many things - wisdom, lamp, guide - light shines through, takes up residence and moves us on.
‘In the very beginning’, it says, ‘there was light’. It burned away the dusty dimness of a time before the dawn of creation. Warming the waiting earth that stretched and grew underneath its gaze, it gave life. Dividing itself from darkness, it offered a pattern and pace to the days and nights, moments, month, years, generations. In the very beginning, there was light.
Light danced its way through our stories.
Moses, captivated by a fire that did not consume …
The prophets who call – ‘people in darkness, follow the light’…
The psalmist who sings of a lamp to our feet, the unfolding word that gives a glimmer of insight …
The woman who lights a lamp, searching for a treasure she has lost …
The city on a hill, a beacon for all who stray …
Lamp on a stand, not hidden but held high …
In all these things, we are summoned to light.
This Christmas, Christian Aid’s theme is ‘Light the Way’ – an invitation for people to be light in dark places, to wage welcome not war on refugees who flee persecution, violence and war. 65 million members of our global family have no safe place to call home and we can help by offering practical things – food, clothing, shelter and safe spaces. We can help by refusing to add our voices to the rhetoric of ‘them and us’, borders and barriers. Our campaign asks supporters to send a Christmas card to Theresa May, asking her to speak words of compassion and care and calling on the government to follow that path. We challenge one another to do the same.
This Advent, we remember another 'in the beginning.' ‘In the beginning was the Word’ – with God, was God, wisdom – the life-light of all people, a force darkness could not overcome. Let us claim that light and live it.
“It’s time for each of us to step
up for human rights.
There is no action that is too small: wherever you are, you can make a difference.
Together, let’s take a stand for more humanity.” -- UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
Something strange happens as we move closer to Christmas. Even the most outward-looking of us seem to leave the world at the door, put the 24-hour news on mute and try to recreate our lives as a Victorian Christmas card with snow on gables and tables creaking under the strain of roasted turkey.
And sometimes, that’s the right thing to do. Sometimes we need to be reminded of the bonds of family to the exclusion of all else. In the midst of so much global turmoil, we need the Christmas lights to shine a little brighter and the carolers to sing a little louder.
But ours is not the Victorian age, and to pretend that we can celebrate Christmas in a reality vacuum is to cling to the coattails of the ghost of Christmas past. The 24-hour global news cycle, for all its faults, insists that we look deep into the eyes of our brothers and sisters wherever they are.
And yet, as we recognise the divine humanity in each other it is impossible to pretend that the belief that all human beings are born with equal and inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms is universally incarnated. Too many people are still being left behind.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written out of the embers of World War Two, does not offer a sticking plaster to future generations. Instead it offers something much riskier, something much more generous: it offers us the permission to be bold.
The permission to be bold enough to reach out to those who are left out in the cold because of their gender, class or ethnicity. Bold enough to challenge the systems that keep people stuck in poverty, far from good education and compassionate health care. Bold enough to be the Good News to our neighbours across the street and across the world.
Today, Human Rights Day, let’s take a moment to stand up for someone's rights. You could start by adding Theresa May to your Christmas card list. You could ask her to remember that her words and policies affect the lives of the 65 million people who are fleeing conflict and violence. You can light the way. Today, of all days, be bold.
Leanne Clelland works for Christian Aid. You can find out more about the Christmas Appeal here.
At a workshop on loneliness in April, when a number of examples had been given as to how the problem was being addressed in different churches, one minister said: 'Just please don't ask us to do anything more at Christmas!'
No, there's no need to do anything more. But there is a need to do some things differently. The church has a vital role to play here in getting a clear message across.
The problem of loneliness at Christmas is well documented. Some churches now offer special services like 'blue liturgies', communal meals which are open to everyone, and other activities and drop-in sessions between Christmas and New Year. These are especially important at a time when so many regular activities shut down for the duration of the holidays. But they can seem too much to organise after all the extra services and celebrations of the pre-Christmas period. Sympathies go to that minister who asked us not to give him anything more to do during the festive season. He, and so many others, are simply too exhausted even to contemplate it.
So my response to him, and indeed to all churches, is simply: do less, not more, at Christmas, but change the time at which you do some of it!
This is about getting to the root of one of the causes of loneliness. It often isn't realised that busyness, over-activity, and overspending alike are all ways of both compensating for and concealing it. And when the activities and the spending stop, the loneliness sometimes becomes even more acute, and not just among older people, younger ones - particularly single parents - are often most affected.
If we can get across how unimportant money and spending is to the central message of Christmas, even before Advent begins, it could help to reduce some of the frenetic activity associated with excessive shopping. This could help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, too, and it will certainly help reduce levels of personal debt that are so often the cause of depression and worse in the post-Christmas period, which in turn exacerbate loneliness even more.
We also need to consider moving some of the services and celebrations normally taking place before Christmas to the period that follows it. There are, after all, twelve days of Christmas. Many pre-Christmas services, such as carol services, could logically be held in the days after 25th December. The words of many of our carols actually refer to the period from Christmas Eve through to Epiphany (beginning with 'Silent Night' and ending with 'We Three Kings'). But everything in our calendars focuses on Christmas Day itself, and not on what happens afterward. This is all wrong.
After all, Christmas is the beginning, not the end, of a season. It's the beginning of 'Emmanuel, God with us'. After the birth of a baby, we do not lock the newborn child in an empty building, go home and have a party, then sleep off the hangover for the next ten days. He or she becomes the centre of our attention. Isn't it time that we brought the same attitude to our Christmas preparations and celebrations? And help to reduce the loneliness of Jesus himself while we're about it?Ruth Grayson
In Christmas stories told and retold
God with us.
In Christmas stories lived and relived
God with us.
In the stories from the centre and the fringes,
From the inside and the outside,
God with us.
In the stories of plenty and extravagance,
Of charity and sufficiency,
God with us.
In the stories of youth and families,
Of old age and loneliness,
God with us.
In the stories of full plates and empty,
Of broken plates and missing,
God with us.
In the depths of December and highs of July,
God with us.
In the Epiphany moments of every season,
God with us
As we journey on.
Lord of all people,
On this day as we prepare to welcome
you again into our midst,
Help us to understand something of the reality of that first Christmas – the poverty, the fear, the judgement and the journey into the unknown.
Be with all who live that reality today,
Those living under occupation, those fleeing their homes in search of safety.
And be with all who refuse to be silent in the face of prejudice, hatred and injustice.
Let us work for peace with justice for all your people.
- 56 years ago