Watchnight Reflection: A Time to Wait
The Old Testament book of wise sayings Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for everything – and indeed gives us a comprehensive list of every occasion from dancing to mourning; from sowing seeds to preparing the ground – from tears to laughter, all of life is there; to live and love and to know God.
It is traditional on this Holy Night to sing certain things, to listen to particular words, to reflect as we wait for that perfect time for greeting the new day and welcoming again, the Son of God into the world and into our hearts; it is also a good time to reflect on our year and our world.
I am a little perplexed, on this Christmas Night remembering the whirlwind of activity and excitement we all experienced back in September as the country experienced something amazing: the will to exercise the right to vote; the excitement, the debate, and the impassioned voices on both sides ensured that a huge majority of the nation engaged with what was going; engaged with the future.
I am perplexed because it seems absurd that it was only three months ago – it feels much longer!
Time does that – doesn’t it?
When we are waiting it crawls along, and seems to take forever
And when we are putting off; avoiding, it seems to go far too quickly.
A time for every thing – everything.
I have mourned this year; and wept
I have also laughed and rejoiced
I have danced (but not when anyone can see me)
I have even (on a very rare occasion) done a bit in the garden!
I have been astonished at great courage and resilience;
I have looked on in admiration as remarkable and wondrous things have happened
And, sadly, I have looked on in horror at the world
And the depths that some people are prepared to go to.
I am sure you all have similar thoughts too
I have on occasion felt utter despair at the cruelty and wickedness that pervades the world. That in America white is supreme and colour is lower than low. This appals me: that in the 21st century, in the so called civilised world a country that has a black president, can allow young men to die at the hands of the defenders of the law because of the colour of their skin.
I have been utterly horrified at the plight of young people: over 200 girls in Nigeria, kidnapped, brutalised, forced to convert their religion; and still after nine months not returned to their families.
In West Africa, Sierra Leone and Liberia – thousands dying from a disease that it seems cannot be halted: children orphaned; parents bereft; whole communities devastated.
And just last week, in Pakistan, the mindless slaughter of innocent lives – in a determined onslaught. No pretence of negotiation or kidnap – simply the determination to take as many young lives as is possible before each terrorist took his own life.
It beggars belief; it is both terrifying and horrifying in equal measure.
And of course, right here in Scotland – a totally unexpected, unanticipated tragedy leaving many families devastated, and others experiencing a very different Christmas from the one they had planned.
Even in amongst all of this there is hope.
For I have been touched by the things which happen here in our community; the way people rally round; offering love and support and practical help.
The families I have got to know at our Messy Church events over the year; the pupils and students I have met and talked with at our schools this year has been a real pleasure; a real source of hope and joy.
Yes. There may be bad stuff happening out there.
It may feel like the world is in a terrible fix.
But when we look inward; when we remember the other things; the stories of selflessness and generosity which do not make good headlines we can take heart.
For there is good in the world.
There is hope.
There is love and kindness.
There are people of many different faiths who do not live by violence, but by peace; there are people who live with others with acceptance and grace and gentleness.
Those who do not judge and condemn, but who invite dialogue and relationships, to try to understand others and who yearn to accept and be accepted.
God appears in many guises, and in many unexpected, unanticipated moments; yesterday, while I was at the BGH visiting, I was walking along a corridor when I was flagged down by a woman. She looked straight at me and told me her mother had just died. She then exclaimed how wonderful it was to see a minister at that moment, just when she needed one. So I turned around and went with her.
I met her two sisters, and we sat and chatted about their mum, about the wonder of me being there at just the right moment – a God moment; God was with us in that time, and as we prayed and as we comforted each other it brought to life that reality: God came to be with us, vulnerable, and weak. God came to show us love so deep that it would go to heaven and back again, so that we know for sure, that death is not the end that it is a new beginning; and even though we may be parted for a while, we will be reunited in glory – from the manger in Bethlehem, to the cross of Calvary to the empty tomb in the garden we go – together and never alone – for God is with us and all people of light.
And while good people live
God’s light will shine
Hope will prevail
Love will conquer all