I’m writing this Advent message the day after the terrorist atrocities at several locations in Paris leaving almost 130 dead and many more injured. Doubtless the count will rise. So many individual lives devastated. Peoples and nations united in mourning with France.
In his ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Jesus is quoted as saying:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)
How could we possibly think of ourselves as “blessed” if we are mourning? Surely to be mourning means that we are grieving, usually the death of someone we love. And how could the grieving Parisians be “blessed” now? THREE THOUGHTS.
ONE. The word in Greek translated “comforted” means literally that someone will be called alongside them. So those who mourn have someone called alongside them.
The same Greek word is used by Jesus to describe the Holy Spirit – the “Comforter” or the “Counsellor” – the one who will come alongside Jesus’ disciples and help them when he is gone from their sight.
God, by his Spirit, comes alongside us. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are there; your rod and your staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4). He is “close to the broken-hearted.” (Psalm 34:18) This characteristic of ‘God with us’ is seen throughout the life of Jesus, most memorably when he weeps at the grave of his friend Lazarus.
TWO. I think we are all called to mourn, and especially in Advent – not just the empty places at our Christmas table but all that falls short of how life should be. All selfishness, hatred, division and conflict; all hunger, poverty and injustice; all sickness, pain and death. Instead of ignoring it, or pretending it doesn’t exist, Jesus enables us to look it in the face.
On our own, such darkness is unbearable, overwhelming. But God is with us and bears us up. He gives us strength to make a difference through our prayers, our giving, and our practical help and encouragement of others. These will often feel like frail offerings. But stemming from love, the light they bring shines out brightly in the darkness. As we step out in faith, sharing the world’s pain, we are blessed and comforted, enabling us to bring that message of hope to others.
THREE. Finally, and most importantly, we believe in resurrection, in the ultimate and assured victory of Jesus over death and all evil. We trust in the promise of new life beyond death in a renewed creation where there is no more suffering or pain or dying. We are not destined for death and destruction but for life with God for ever.
The Christ child came into our world to share our mortality so that we might share his divinity. May you have a hope-filled Advent and Christmas.