I have and am blessed by many women in my life; an amazing mother, an incredible wife, two fabulous daughters, two wonderful daughters in law, three fantastic granddaughters, a soul friend, spiritual director, many companions, friends and colleagues – all of whom have been a source of great blessing. Mindful of the inspiration of women and taking a retreat at Whitby, made famous by St Hild, I have spent time thinking about Mary through this Advent season. Incredible to think that she was no more than a teenager, that she would give birth to Jesus and in such extraordinary circumstances. The words of the angel, “Do not be afraid Mary. Nothing is impossible with God“. In those words the impossible was made possible. The coming of Christ into the world, the miracles, healings and transformation he brought to peoples’ lives and above all, the reason and foundation of all hope, his resurrection – the impossible made possible with God.
Advent and the celebration of Christmas is a season for remembering what happened and for imagining what is possible. A season to hope, to realise new visions and dreams.
And it’s the thought that nothing is impossible with God that has given hope in what is a bleak period. Winter with its darkest days and chill air echoes the bleak news pervading our daily lives. The folly of a contrived Referendum and its consequent Brexit debacle is disturbing. All that it has triggered is seen in damaged relationships, a fractured Britain, discord with our European neighbours and the fueling of partisan, nationalistic and racist popularist movements. It’s incredible that we are seeing a resurgence of extremist policies, of both the Left and Right that are undermining democracy. We learn so little from history. What we have sown in the West, we are beginning to reap: failure to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, defend the weak, protect the vulnerable has resulted in a backlash, meted out to us in the increasing threat of global terrorism.
History reminds us that after any economic recession, austerity measures that favour the rich and neglect the poor will result in civil unrest. It is obscene and evil that Britain, the fifth richest country in the world has inflicted hardship and misery to the most disadvantaged and poor in our society. There are 14 million people living in poverty in Britain, one in five of the population. A benefit system that is supposed to protect all of us from being swept into poverty is failing. The gap widens, the number of people living in poverty increases, all of which fuels the fires of discontent and contributes to a society conflicted, lacking in compassion and blinded to the reality of suffering behind the veneer of consumerism. The number of people using food banks has increased from 2010 from 41,000 to 1.4 million. Attitudes towards ‘strangers’ migrants, refugees and asylum seekers smacks of those prevalent within 1930s Germany. Our self-interest and protectionist policies are eroding our contribution to the shaping of European society, rooted in its Judeo-Christian values. We are giving up our place at the table where we can influence for good the shaping of an institution, that, far from being perfect and in major need of reform, has nevertheless held once warring nations together for over 60 years. Conflict is often triggered by contesting trade issues. Volatile and dangerous policies, usually announced over a twitter feed by the president in the United States, together with the rise of an increasingly powerful China, which has no checks and balances in terms of democracy, is threatening world peace. The War in Yemen has been raging for three years and has left the country in the grip of the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis where children are paying the heaviest price, facing a deadly cocktail of bombs, disease and hunger.
Western consumerism is beginning to evaporate as the tangible signs of an economic downturn, the weakening of the High Street, the struggle of businesses, the stockpiling of resources, the failure of the Government and Opposition parties to exhibit any sense of serving the common good are all signs of a society that is in turmoil and signalling its decline
I do find it difficult to sing, “tis the season to be jolly“. I am disturbed by what is happening in the world. I am blessed for I represent the minority of people in the world who have a comfortable home, I don’t have to worry about having enough food to eat, I can drink fresh water straight from the tap. I am content and enjoy a comfortable life. I am blessed with a great family and lovely friends. For the vast majority of people in the world life is hard. It is a time in world history when hope can be hard to find and dreams of a better future difficult to believe. Hope seems to be in short supply and it is in this context that we need to receive Mary’s inspiring courage and trust in the face of fear and uncertainty.
Life was uncertain for Mary. She had fears and problems to encounter. The bureaucracy of her day required her to travel some distance to Bethlehem late in her pregnancy on a donkey more uncomfortable than any packed commuter train. After the birth of her son Jesus, she had to flee with Joseph to Egypt; refugees, fleeing from an evil dictator, when their lives are in danger.
She must have been anxious at the prospect of what life lay ahead for her beloved child. The angels announcement, the shepherds arrival, Simeon’s words in the temple, “a sword will pierce your soul” left Mary pondering.
What Mary experienced and how she responded provides us with an inspiring example of faith in troubled times, courage in facing uncertainty and above all hope. Hope that the impossible is indeed possible.
Whatever the future holds, whatever challenges, turbulence and uncertainties may lie before us, we hold on to the hope that all things remain possible with God. We once again dream and allow ourselves to be inspired by the same Holy Spirit which came to Mary, to imagine the world where Good News is heard, where God’s Kingdom breaks through and hope is born. Where the same Holy Spirit brings not a selection box but the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Fruit that makes the impossible possible.
May the hope of Christ and his inextinguishable light illumine your path throughout this Christmas and the coming year.
Bless you and take care
Hope is the ability to hear the music of the future. Faith is the courage to dance to its tune today.
Peter Kuzmic, Croatian theologian