Article in Big Voice for January 2021, published in December.

Can we say Hope, Love, Joy, Peace?

Everyone will be having those painful conversations about Christmas.  Who can and cannot be seen?  Who can or cannot be cuddled?  Of course such emotional dilemmas are for those who actually have folk with whom to make plans!  There are many for whom there is no choice in their circumstances or key worker front line jobs or shielding.  Christmas is never a great time for the lonely and that is only compounded this year.  If it helps and serves anyone, we are opening St.Mary’s every day so that you go in for some individual space, reflection and indeed prayer (keeping to all the covid safe guidelines of course!).  Make the most of the space your church affords and enjoy the Christmas Tree & nativity too!

On top of this is the huge challenge of hardship this Christmas.  Some are better off and have ‘saved’ through the pandemic whilst many local people are in great hardship, who were on furlough and are now jobless.  What hardship we observe is just the tip of the iceberg, we rarely glimpse its reach and depth in our community.  It is the secret being held by so many people – and, (in addition to loneliness), debt and poverty is leading to one of the greatest crises we’ve known in mental health and community wellbeing.   Alverstoke church, in partnership with the Alverstoke Trust, is seeking to help by raising a few thousand pounds to support community poverty projects that will practically assist those in greatest hardship in Gosport this winter.  We’ve asked the church congregation if they can help match-fund and raise even more for local need!

So, it can seem frivolous of the church to strapline ‘Hope, Love, Joy and Peace’ in such a time as this.  Perhaps they’re harmless Christmas greetings for those who are themselves ok – but what about those who are not?  Are they merely shallow and trite sentiments or do they have a deeper meaning and truth?  Are they simply aspirational ‘feelings’ in times of darkness and sorrow – or can they possibly have a transformational reality for people’s lives and community wellbeing?

This Christmas and New Year we’re holding on to hope, love, joy and peace as ‘realities’ rather than aspirations.  It was into the profound suffering, poverty and oppression of people that the angels proclaimed hope, love, joy and peace.  When all the news was bad they declared ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people’ – ‘and on earth peace’.  The Christmas message is that in Jesus ‘God has come’ to share our humanity –  in it’s glory and joys, and in its suffering and sorrow.  Christ who offers a relationship with the perfect love that is God; a love which embraces with peace beyond rational understanding, a love which leads to a profound joy in the soul (which is so much deeper than feeling happy in the moment!) – and all of this gives ‘hope’ for tomorrow and, indeed, for ever.

Hence, however it is that we celebrate Christmas and as we enter 2021 – through all the struggle and disappointment, and the mental wrestling with all that’s going on in each person’s life, our prayer is that you may find hope, love, joy and peace as a Christmas gift given to you from God in Jesus.

Revd Andrew Norris, Rector for Alverstoke Parish.