The woodblock print, “The flight to Egypt”, by the local artist Watanabe Sadao, has followed us from our missionary days in Japan. The new-born child, Jesus, followed his parents into uncertainty. To stay in Bethlehem was not an option for Joseph and Mary. UNHCR tells us that there have never been so many refugees in the world as there are today. It is a symptom of the many crises facing us as we move towards Christmas in 2020. The global pandemic has deepened that feeling of uncertainty. This pandemic is not only as a health issue, but has also highlighted the economic and social challenges before us, creating devastating consequences for millions of people. In the UK, Brexit adds to the anxiety and uncertainty whether it proceeds with or without a deal.
Last year, we celebrated Christmas and welcomed the new year without knowing anything about Covid-19. From mid-February everything changed. As your bishop I have not been able to visit any congregation since the beginning of March. I have been a bishop in exile, forced to stay in my home-country of Norway. More important is of course the stress on the life in our churches. People have not been able to congregate in a normal way for months. As refugees do, we have been forced to improvise and find ad hoc solutions. I am impressed by the creativity and consistency shown by so many of you under these strange and difficult circumstances.
To me this is a sign of the living hope given to us by the baby carried on the back of a donkey, journeying with his parents just after his birth. That boy became the “Son of Man” giving so many suffering and disillusioned people new hope. His message of God’s love and grace was filled with a renewing power. After he had shown that this love is stronger even than the last enemy, death, his disciples were filled with what Peter once called a living hope. And that living hope is still alive! The beautiful narrative about the miraculous birth of our Saviour, which we will soon celebrate, is filled with hope, a hope needed even more now in these uncertain times.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom 15:13)