Merry Christmas (Christmas is a season, after all…) and Happy New Year!
I must confess that for some reason — perhaps it was the unseasonably warm temperatures — I found it difficult to get into the holiday spirit this year. It, of course, was not helped by the fact that there is little evidence of Christmas in Tiberias anyway.
One evening I went to Haifa to see the Christmas lights. It was a Friday night, the start of Shabbat, and the main street of the German Colony was packed with people — Christian, Muslim, Jewish. I heard Russian, Arabic and Hebrew all being spoken around me. In the central square sat a huge Christmas tree, a peace dove Hanukkiah, and a minaret with a lit crescent, while behind, the Baha’i gardens rose up impressively. It was a glorious scene of joy and an all-too-rarely-celebrated example of co-existence. There is so much darkness in our world in the discrimination, the violence, the political posturing, but that night in Haifa, a light shone against the darkness.
The holidays themselves then passed in a whirlwind of activity. The church renovation is 99.9% finished, and thanks to the hard work of the contractors, we were able to move back into the building three days before Christmas Eve. So in addition to the annual stresses of music and service sheets and decorations, I had a church to put back into some kind of order. I hadn’t yet learned how the fire detection or security systems worked and was on the edge of panic in the hours before the Lessons & Carols service wondering if the heat from the candles would set off the fire alarm, or if heavy rain would trigger the security alarm. The staff at the Scots Hotel deserve a special mention for all the hard work they did in helping move furniture and books, last minute repairs, cleaning, ordering flowers, and preparing mulled wine for Christmas Eve. In the end, the church looked beautiful and the services and concert went relatively smoothly, if not perfectly.
The week after Christmas I was invited to join the local Catholic community, Koinonia John the Baptist, for their Christmas lunch. They’re charismatic Catholic order that originated in Italy in 1979, and there is a small community in Tiberias and Jerusalem. It was a joy to spend the afternoon with them, sharing food and drink, and relaxing after the busyness of the season. On New Year’s Eve, I was delighted to welcome them to our church service, and on New Year’s Day, I joined them for their celebration of the Feast of Mary, Mother of God.
If I’m honest, it’s been an exhausting few weeks, and for various reasons, I didn’t get the down-time I so desperately needed between Christmas and New Year. But I am trying to make up for it today. I am writing this from the warmth of my bed, listening to the rain pounding down outside and Coleridge purring happily at my feet. We’re experiencing a terrific rain storm which started yesterday and, God willing, will continue through this evening. The clouds are so heavy that my bedroom is as dark as night, and the rhythm of the rainfall is deeply soothing.
It feels appropriate to be starting this new year with an abundance of rain. It washes away the dirt and dust that has accumulated over the long hot summer months, refreshing the earth, transforming the landscape. It is a sign of hope; every drop that falls holds the promise of new life. Soon the brown of the scorched hills will give way to a rich green, and already in the north poppies and wild cyclamen are beginning to peek out amongst the rocks, hinting that spring is on its way.
Up until now, we have had to search for the signs of spring. But soon, it will be all around us, unmissable.
And so now, at the beginning of 2018, I pray that, however this year may have started, whatever may be happening in your life, that you will see the signs of God’s love, the promise that it holds of refreshing, transforming, renewing us. Sometimes it may take some searching, but I pray for each of you, my friends, that there will be moments when it is unmissable in all its flourishing, richly coloured, joyful glory.