This reflection draws particularly on the Old Testament reading from Isaiah 52.7-10 which is one of the lectionary texts selected for Christmas Day. It is offered by Rev Alan Amos, who after a varied ministry both in the United Kingdom and the Middle East now holds PTO (Permission to Officiate) in the Dioceses of both Europe and Salisbury. He currently acts as spiritual adviser for the ecumenical English-speaking Cursillo in Geneva.
‘Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem;
For the Lord has comforted his people,
He has redeemed Jerusalem’ (Isaiah 52.9)
These words from Isaiah celebrate the coming of a new age, ‘for all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God’ (Isaiah 52.10). This age has been seen, both by Christians and Jews, as belonging to the Messiah. In both our communities of faith we celebrate the coming of the messianic age, though for Christians it is ‘realised’ in Christ, whose very Hebrew name YESHUA speaks directly of salvation, while our Jewish brothers and sisters wait for an age which is still to come. All of us are called to do our part in healing a world which is crying out for the work of mending and reconciliation and justice and peace. And the more we participate in this healing, the closer we will draw to one another.
The prophetic voice can talk about a future hope as if it has already been accomplished; it is as if the telling forth of the words of prophecy through God’s mercy and faithfulness brings about the very theme of the prophecy. Such a prophetic voice strengthens weary limbs and brings fresh vigour to hearts and minds; for it calls us to live valiantly in the expectation of the fulfilment of God’s promises.
As we look forward to Christmas, we need to rediscover the language of hope. This is a language that goes beyond the categories of optimism and pessimism, which are often used in support of short-term thinking. By contrast, the message at the heart of Christmas is one that shows a way forward through times of danger and suffering, because God has chosen to embrace the world in the coming of Jesus Christ. The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks to us of Christ as our pioneer and example, who calls us to follow him ‘outside the camp.’ (Hebrews 13.13) This reminds us that God’s love of the world is transformative, and that we are called to be agents of this transformation. In this vital work we will be sustained by ‘hope which is an anchor to the soul’ and which reaches ‘beyond the veil’ to the life of heaven itself. (Hebrews 6.19)
Hope for the future is greatly needed in Europe at this time, as well as in the holy land. And the grounds of hope are sadly hard to detect. Unless … unless we live trusting in God’s promises and are prepared to take the risk of believing in a future where good will triumph over evil. Christ has come into our world to inaugurate God’s reign; we are therefore called to live as the visible citizens of an invisible kingdom, and to be willing to pay the price that may be required of us.
I am grateful, as my wife Clare has shared with me her experiences of visiting Albania, that we have been spared the sufferings endured by the martyred church in that land. And yet she found there not overwhelming sorrow but a firm and triumphant joy among the Christian community. How that puts us to shame! But also gives us hope.
‘May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony to banish all hatred and bigotry, uniting all people in peace and freedom and helping them to fulfil the vision of your prophet: ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war anymore.’ (verses from the Siddur Sim Shalom, prayer book of the Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, USA)