The outbreak of war in the Holy Land began with the horrific attack by Hamas on civilians in Israel and escalated to an attack on—and, later, a deadly explosion at—the Anglican Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. Since then, I have found myself pondering the paradoxes of daily life. On the one hand I begin my day listening to the radio news of disaster upon disaster, in the Holy Land and elsewhere—more bombs dropped; more civilians killed; more vitriolic anger poured out; another earthquake; a burst dam that makes thousands homeless. The enormity of the pain and suffering that I can read, see or hear about instantaneously is overwhelming. Even as I listen I realize how helpless I am in the face of so much brokenness.
Then I hear a piece of music that captures a moment of joy or hope, or I glance out the window and am mesmerized by the beauty of the sunset over my deck—or the sight of a new bloom on my hibiscus! My heart is softened by that reminder that there is still hope, still joy possible—still God’s creative hand at work in the world.
We have all had moments of delight in the midst of the darkest hours of our days: the sudden smile of a small infant; a gift of kindness from a stranger; an example of love that goes above and beyond expectations. Suffering and joy exist side by side.
Advent is the season of anticipation in which we long for the kingdom of God to come in its fulness of peace and justice—even as we celebrate the birth of a baby who is at the mercy of political and social forces that will make him a refugee for his first two years of life. Yet that child will change the course of history and become a sign of hope for us all. That is why we cherish this season of our church year. We need, every year, to be reminded that God’s hope is born in the smallest and the least. It is born in the love of God poured out in simple kindness, generosity, courage and compassion. It is born in a young woman willing to bring God into the world—and a fiancé willing to face social stigma to be faithful.
Over the past two years I have visited parts of our church that are in isolated communities far away from the cities of southern Canada—in northern Saskatchewan, northwestern British Columbia and the Yukon—and recently in Labrador, including Rigolet (population 300), the southernmost Inuit community in the world. In these places I have been moved by the faithfulness of small Anglican congregations living the gospel, raising up local leadership, sharing their resources with others and caring for community needs. I have been touched by the faithfulness of Indigenous parishes whose love of God transcends the pain of history and abuse. In the midst of powerful social shifts, communities and families find a way to be the light of Christ!
As we enter this Advent amidst the cacophony of war and suffering, faithful prayer and acts of love and kindness continue to be harbingers of hope. Thanks be to God.