Keep the light of Christmas shining by Dionne Gravesande

For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

As the Christian world gets ready to celebrate Christmas, public gatherings around the ‘turning on’ of the Christmas lights will look and feel very different this year.  Against the backdrop of COVID-19, the climate emergency, and the Black Lives Matter movement, 2020 has seen some dark days. As I reflect, I know that this Christmas I will be lighting several candles (albeit in my home) to remember friends and family. For me, the single flame of a candle is a striking and powerful symbol of hope and good things to come. Every light in a dark place can dispel despair, illuminate hope, and provide needed perspective of things as they really are. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, many churches have mobilised their leaders, congregations and other community networks to respond to the tragic COVID-19 outcomes near and far.  Over the months, we learnt that individuals and networks within communities of faith also took action to find ways of supporting vulnerable people through the emergency. However, as well as providing practical support in the here and now, we also need to act to make the necessary policy changes, so that our collective hope is translated into real actions. We as leaders, congregations and members of civil society need to get better at asking questions about social norms, academic research and political policies, because in this space we go beyond our commentary to influence the social and political agenda. 

For example:

  1. Nobody could have imagined some months ago that global air traffic would be moving down by 80% or more in some regions. The uptake of tele-conferencing and Zoom-communication technologies, which have become the default for conferences, workshops and webinars, has taught us we can do things differently. While not glamourising the limited conditions of working from home, we are aware of the negative effects of narrowing down human communication to audio-visual digital technologies. That said, work as we know it has and will continue to change, so what will future employment for our communities look like? Will it be ethical and, in the interest of reducing our carbon footprint, can the churches support a move towards more glocalised forms of consumption and production? 
  • Every global crisis has hidden or overt actors, which benefit from this crisis, meanwhile many ordinary people will carry on with a huge amount of debt – and this includes national governments. The question of who is going to pay the long-term cost is not going away, so let’s get involved. Here is where we need more voices from African and Caribbean churches and ecumenical bodies to speak as to how the international financial system and its actors need to be called to reforms, so as to make the financial system into a vital and reliable partner in solving the crisis, and not only as one who benefits from the dilemmas created.  
  • The coronavirus pandemic for many has also brought a more sceptical view on who has access to healthcare provision and protection. Good governance of national authorities is essential.  African and Caribbean church leaders need to be present and visible at decision-making tables on issues and decisions affecting the lives of BAME constituencies. 

More than ever before, Christians need to speak up and speak out on the decisions that affect us and our communities. Today, we face enormous social, moral and economic challenges, and it is imperative that our churches and leaders play their role in creating a cohesive, safe and prosperous society where individuals flourish.

So, here is my hope. Paul writes: “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NLT). We need to be ready to share the burdens of people impacted by the health and economic crisis. Together, we have the potential to be a thousand points of light that can effectively advocate and take action to build back better, by playing our part in calling for a just and peaceful kingdom during this time of heightened stress and tension.

We acknowledge that the reason for the season is to celebrate the birth of Him who is the Light of the world: Jesus Christ. He is the Light that shineth in the darkness and brings hope and healing to all, and my prayer this Christmas is for each citizen to shine their unique light in ways that can make a difference for someone else. Don’t underestimate the power of the multi-coloured lights of Christmas that are the good deeds of good people everywhere. 

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