By Revd Vanessa Conant, Rector, St Mary’s & the Parish of Walthamstow
On Wednesday, I celebrated my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary. Like so many things this year and last, it was on Zoom, a sweet gathering of our nearest and dearest family. It was all the things that a Zoom call is – imperfect and yet lovely. Our hearts were full. The next morning, my beloved Aunt collapsed at home and died. There had been no warning, she was not unwell. We had just been laughing and celebrating together. We are heartbroken.
I am struck by the immense fragility of life. The last almost two years have shown us this very profoundly. And here we are again in a time of uncertainty, trying to parse the statistics, avoid infection and reach loved ones. Our worship has felt marked by frailty this year, too – the rain now preventing us from even our valiant attempts at some car park worship on Christmas Eve. People speak of their deep exhaustion, of hearts that feel a little dulled and sore, and of souls which are longing for normality. Perhaps you know these feelings too.
It is vulnerable to be human.
And yet this is how God chooses to come to meet us. In human fragility, in the midst of grief and uncertainty and mess. In John’s gospel, the evangelist writes: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’
To encounter Jesus is to constantly face the reality that the glory of God – sometimes described as the weight of God’s presence – the power, the force, the beauty, the awe and the wonder – is glimpsed in the very vulnerability we struggle with daily. As one priest, Revd Dr Al Barrett, has put it: ‘If God-in-Jesus is Saviour – which we claim he is – he doesn’t save us from our fleshly fragility, but in it. He saves us by being with us in our fragile flesh, with us in our tears and brokenness and suffering and fear, and with us too as light.’
The other well-known words from the opening of John’s gospel are these: ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’ Sometimes I want to proclaim these words triumphantly – here is the winning side, the light has overcome it all! But this year, I find myself wanting to proclaim it to you gently, as reassurance, as promise, as hope. It may feel as if the light is hard to find; the promise of Christmas is that it is nonetheless here, and that nothing, not even the greatest suffering or loss, can diminish it.
Let’s return to the Gospel, where John writes, ’to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’. Jesus’ promise, as he prepares to go to his death, is that we will be the carriers of this glory, the people who reveal his presence and make known his love. We – the frail and the fragile, we the grieving and the heartbroken, we the isolating and the Covid positive, we who have not got it all together – we, by God’s grace and mercy – are the way in which he chooses to communicate and reflect his glory.
There is glory in the shopping you’ve done for a friend who is unexpectedly isolating, for the phone call you made to the person who was lonely, to the hand you held in silence when no words could bring comfort. There is glory in the donation you made to charity which no one saw, and there is glory in the countless ways you demonstrate love to others.
So we come to celebrate the birth of Christ in another strange time, unsure of what the coming days will hold. Perhaps our own celebrations feel in disarray. This is the very place where Emmanuel, God with us, will meet us to bring healing and peace and these are the very places he calls us, to share that peace with others.
May you know his presence and his love in all your vulnerability. God bless you.
–Revd Vanessa Conant