16 December 2016
God with us
Jennie Pollock is a freelance writer and editor.
I'm writing this on a coach. I can't remember the last time I travelled somewhere by coach; 1996, I think. I wouldn't be doing it now if it wasn't for the rail strikes.
Those of you not living in southern England may not be aware that one of the major rail companies down here has been on strike this week, and has been running a pretty poor service for months, with strikes, delays and cancellations causing disruption to many busy commuter routes.
For people like me it's a minor inconvenience - my journey will take longer than usual, but it was considerably cheaper than the train, so I can't complain. For the many hundreds who rely on these services to commute to work every day, though, it is a serious problem. I understand that some employers, sick of their workforce's constant lateness, have been threatening to fire staff who use this service and therefore don't make it in on time. Even if your boss isn't so draconian, it's far from ideal to be spending even longer commuting than you do already, with the extra stress, lack of sleep, and reduced family time that entails.
Mind you, even that pales into insignificance when compared to the other strikes we've been hearing about this week - the air strikes on the Syrian town of Aleppo. Losing a few extra hours' sleep to a longer commute are nothing compared to losing your home, livelihood, limbs or loved ones to a bomb attack. As we've watched the misery unfold I suspect many of us have felt helpless and perhaps despairing. What can we do?
What did Jesus do?
At this time of year, one of the key things we remember about what he did is of course that he came down and dwelt among us. I love the way The Message translation puts John 1:14: "The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood."
We don't serve a king who sits in an ivory tower, disconnected from all our pain, but one who came down and experienced it and lived among it. He was born in occupied territory, spent some time as a refugee, and knew personal loss, rejection and anguish.
For most of us, following his example won't mean moving to Syria or southern England just for the sake of living among those who suffer - though it may, if that's God's call on your life. But it does mean not turning a blind eye. It means mourning with those who mourn, and getting involved however we can, through prayers, petitions or practical action.
It means responding as Jesus did, weeping over the brokenness and praying "Thy kingdom come".
And we can also learn from Mary, whose immediate response in the heat of the moment was: "Let it be to me according to your word" - or as Jesus later put it: "Thy will be done" - and whose faith was shown even more powerfully later, despite the suspicion and persecution she must have been undergoing as a pregnant, unmarried woman. She declared in Luke 1: 46-55:
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever."
The same God is at work among the rulers of this world today. Christmas is a reminder that He sees, knows and understands.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Image: CC Jordl Bernabeu Farrus