In a few days time we will be rejoicing at the birth of our Saviour, but for many people, here and across the world, the celebration will take place against a background of anxiety or fear as we con-front problems of economic uncertainty, warfare and its consequences and, in the longer term, worries about the future of our planet. Concerns and fears about what lies ahead are nothing new. Jesus himself was born into a world of oppressive and often brutal government, of profound economic instability for all but the rich and powerful, while many of Jesus’ countrymen were becoming increasingly convinced that the world as they knew it was coming to an end.
Yet the world is still here, and we are still here, and, yes, the potential for suffering is a part of the human condition. The painting you see here is by Raphael, and it shows the little John the Baptist giving a goldfinch to his cousin. According to popular legend the goldfinch received its distinctive colouring when one of them was splashed by Jesus’ blood as it flew near to him as he was being crucified. The red face of the goldfinch is a reminder that Jesus will himself suffer for us.
Nowhere in the scriptures are we given a truly satisfactory explanation of why there is suffering in the world, but what we are promised by Jesus is that, through his own suffering, and whatever befalls us, he will be there with us, sharing our suffering with us, and helping us to get through it. As he told his disciples following his Resurrection, ‘Remember, I am with you always, yes, to the end of time.’ And, as we face an uncertain future, we might wish to remember the motto of the Carthusians: ‘The cross remains steady, even as the world turns.’
I would like to share with you a poem that was sent to me by a parishioner at the time of Queen Elizbeth’s funeral. At another time of deep uncertainty and fear, in December 1939, when King George made his Christmas broadcast to the nation, he quoted some lines from this poem which had been handed to him by his thirteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, just before the broadcast.
THE GATE OF THE YEAR,
by Minnie Louise Haskins. (Original title, ‘God Knows’, but now better known as ‘The Gate of the Year’).
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown”.
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way”.
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
So heart be still:
What need our little life,
Our human life, to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.
His will is best.
The stretch of years Which wind ahead, so dim To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.
Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.
Emmanuel, our world waits in darkness, longing for your light.
In the midst of darkness, enkindle our hope.
As we long for lasting peace, be with us.
As we long for families to be reunited, be with us.
As we long for enemies to be reconciled, be with us.
As we long for cures and healing, be with us.
As we long for decent jobs and economic security, be with us.
As we long for love and community, be with us.
Fulfil the deepest longings of your people and dispel the darkness in our hearts and in our world.
Let your Word ignite the hope the world needs to bring to life your love and justice. Amen