And so again we enter the season of Advent. This year, as in every year, we enter the season as a people who know hope. Not the easy hope of the ones who rush to the sales to grab a bargain. Not the simplistic hope that claims that all will be happiness and laughter in spite of everything.
We know the hope that is grounded in the truth of incarnation, the truth of a God from whose love nothing can separate us.
Without such grounded hope the lights of Christmas are trivia, the decorations are tawdry and the trees an empty symbol. When we know the hope offered by God who is present with us, who weeps with us, who is with us in our bewilderment, who embraces righteous anger and transforms it into action and who calls us to go into the darkest places of our world and find God even there - then the lights and the tinsel, the candles and the baubles on the tree become signs of hope.
As the world around us seems to be fragmenting, as senseless violence overwhelms individuals and communities, as we slowly contribute to the destruction of the planet - it is the God who is present with us who offers hope.
And how do we respond to hope?
That is what we must work out together and the answer is not always simple to find. But, at the very least we must do all we can to offer hope to others. This is what we do when we volunteer in food banks, visit those who are lonely or ill, work with children and young people, run lucheon clubs and do so many other things in our local communities.
We offer hope when we speak out against injustice, when we challenge decisions and policies which penalise those who are already struggling with poverty or discrimination.
It is only because we hold to the hope that is given to us in Jesus Christ that we can dare to decorate our homes and churches at Christmas in a world where there is so much suffering, injustice, cruelty and pain. If we forget this, the decorations are but distractions - if we remember it they can be a symbol of profound truth.