I am writing this on a wet windy day leading up to Remembrance Sunday. The weather is dismal and the world is too – with the unspeakable horrors in Gaza and Israel imprinted daily on our minds. Christmas and what it represents seems a long way away. I shall return to Christmas at the end.
Remembrance Sunday might help too in our wondering what can we do. One of the basic themes of Remembrance is: what can we do in our time to be peacemakers? Jesus refers to them in the beautiful set of blessings at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The basic building blocks for peacemaking start with us in our families and our communities – words such a forgiveness, compassion, wanting fairness and justice, thinking of others. That may seem a long way from Gaza – it is – but, that is where peace starts. So, the question is: what can each of us do to bring about peace here in our everyday lives?
Something else we can perhaps do is get informed. I read a great deal about increased polarisation and extremism as a direct result of looking at a very limited selection of media. It was my youngest daughter who referred me to the phrase “echo chamber” – and not in a complimentary setting!! There is a lot wrong with the Church of England: but one of the things I really value about it, is that it is a broad church, trying to listen to very different points of view (however hard that is), and has an honourable tradition of scholarship reaching way beyond narrow confines.
In that context, the most striking article I have read is one suggesting that where you start – some start at 1000 years BC, others as late as 1968, with many significant dates in between – will affect your view. Which I think is thought provoking. Where do I start and how does that shape my view?
On that note I remember doing a module led by a Professor M R D Foot, a Professor of Modern History at Manchester when I was a student. It was a module on the Irish troubles – at a time when they were violent and with no apparent solution. His opening words were: “The present Irish troubles can be traced back to the sinking of The White Ship on 25th November 1120, in which Henry 1’s son died.” The weight of history – and its complexity – can mean we literally drown in troubles. And yet, the political will from a leadership across the divides, together with hard and costly work at local community level by community groups, churches and families, has led to a more peaceful place, however precarious that sometimes feels.
And then turning to the Christmas calendar, the third day of the season, December 28th, is always remembered as the massacre of the innocents – when Herod put to death children in his efforts to do away with the baby Jesus. And whatever our views, surely everyone of us cries out about the massacre of innocent people, including children and babies, in both Gaza and Israel.
And then Christmas Day itself – for me a shaft of light in the darkness we do seem to face. As Isaiah the prophet says: “the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light”. A helpless baby brought into the world, who went on to show the power of love – seemingly so vulnerable, yet a light of hope that cannot be extinguished. Everyone is welcome to join us as we celebrate that hope this Christmas.