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Finding joy amid another Covid Christmas

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It might feel as though Christmas has been snatched from us once again, this second festive season of the pandemic. Through summer 2021 we slowly returned to normal, with restaurants opening again, churches meeting to worship and sing, and colleagues returning to the office. As autumn wore on, Christmas parties were arranged and we met and celebrated with friends and family.

The arrival of Omicron has reversed the trend. Parties have been cancelled, as many people choose to put themselves into isolation and a self-imposed lockdown, and governments debate whether to force one upon us. Last year the deprivation of being unable to see loved ones hurt. But to have these benefits return, and then be taken away once again, is enough to bring us to despair.

How do we find joy in a Covid-blighted Christmas? Taking away the social blessings of the festive season could make us focus on the spiritual. Of course, in this season we think of Jesus coming to Earth, the greatest gift to humankind that God has given us. The warmth and cosiness of our favourite Christmas memories – or the traditional nativity scene – are a reflection of this goodness, the arrival of the saviour. As Zechariah says in Luke 1:78, “because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us” (NLT).

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But what if we feel too sad to feel these spiritual blessings? We can take comfort from the Psalms, which are full of the acknowledgement of sorrow, as well as every other human emotion. To grieve and lament is a very natural – and Biblical – part of life. We do not need to force ourselves into joy.

In the Christmas story, there is plenty of sadness as well as happiness. The mothers of Bethlehem were not forced to celebrate – their cries were heard as their young sons were murdered by Herod. Mary and Joseph, forced to travel for a census and to stay in unfamiliar surroundings for the birth of their first child, were under the threat of this tyrant and had to flee soon afterwards. There are plenty of difficulties in the Christmas story, as well as warmth and goodness.

Time and again, the Bible tells us how God transforms sorrow into joy. “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning,” says the famous verse of Psalm 30:5. And this is demonstrated throughout the Bible. Though Herod tries to kill Jesus, he survives and fulfils his mission. Though Jesus is crucified, he is resurrected. Though the early Christians were murdered, the church survives and grows rapidly. Jesus warns us that the world will be full of sorrow and troubles, but we have the goodness and glory of heaven to look forward to.

To find joy is not to ignore the harder parts of life and to pretend that they are easy, but to hold on and remember that God can and will bring good things again. Though we may be isolated this Christmas, these times will pass. Each day has its share of difficulty, but there are always small blessings – a card from an old friend, a house heated and protected from the cold, fresh and tasty food, people who care about us – we can celebrate the small things that bring joy into our lives, even as there are much greater problems to face.

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Human history is full of trouble and strife, but somehow we have battled through. We can choose to face the challenges and learn their lessons, looking forward to a time when God will bring real joy once again. This Christmas, we might feel the disappointment of more restrictions, or the fear of Covid. But we also know we have a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to look forward to. Thank God, this isn’t the end.

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Religion

How to walk through disappointment

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There’s a popular nursery rhyme book for children called ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.‘ The story is about four children going on an adventure but as they embark the children are greeted along the way by obstacles in their path. They are determined that they are going on a bear hunt and that they are going to catch a big one!

Each obstacle they come up against no matter what it is they declare, “Oh well, we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we can’t go around it, we got to go through it!”

Many people say that you don’t remember events from when you were a young child. Scientists say that traumatic memories hide like a shadow in the brain but as our brain develops so does our memory and ability to remember those traumatic events.

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My very first memory was when I was a young child, going in for an MRI scan. I remember heading into the cold, dark tunnel with no light in sight, and having straps holding me down from every angle. You see when I was very young, meningococcal got into my blood stream and made home within my knee.

I say all of this to say growing up was challenging, as my knee was weak and joints would a few times a day cramp up, become stiff and sometimes even dislocate. I learnt quickly though that I had no choice but to stand up and to walk it out, to walk through the pain, I couldn’t go over it, I couldn’t go under it, I couldn’t even go around it, I had to go through it, I had to walk through the pain.

Isn’t that the same in our own lives? When the unexpected, the unknown, the uncomfortable arises – and it will; when disappointment arrives at your doorstep, and before you know it intense pain seeps through and harbours in your heart, how do you navigate that? How do you walk through it?

The word seep means to pass slowly through a small opening. Disappointment is described as a form of sadness. A deep empty feeling of loss, an uncomfortable space, a painful gap between our expectations and reality. Bitterness and hurt can reside out of disappointment and most of the time it unintentionally creeps in, it is unwanted and turbulent and it can feel at times like a stormy sea.

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I wish I could say I love the ocean; I love the idea of the ocean. I can’t deny though that there is something incredible and mesmerising about it. Although I am not an ocean genius, I do know a couple of things. I know that it’s one thing to drop anchor and it’s completely different to set anchor. Dropping anchor is simply hoping the anchor catches something of substance, setting anchor is intentionally placing the anchor so it grabs into the seabed and in doing so it secures the boat in place.

By doing this you are not at the mercy of the wind and seas but rather your heading is kept, and you don’t drift.

If we are not anchored and we allow matters to seep through in our relationship with God, in our family life, in our mental health, it becomes easy and effortless for disappointment to tiptoe in unnoticed and leave a trail of mess behind you.

In Bob Goff’s book Dream Big he says, “In God’s economy, nothing is ever wasted. Not our pain, nor our disappointments, nor our setbacks. These are tools that can be used later as a recipe for our best work. Quit throwing the ‘batter’ away.”

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God is the only one who has been in your tomorrow, He is the only one who knows what you need. Don’t allow disappointments, bitterness or hurt to reside in your heart so much that you throw the whole batter away.

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Censorship warnings if Christian MP and bishop are convicted of hate speech

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Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen(Photo: ADF International)

A Christian MP and bishop are on trial today in Finland for publicly expressing their beliefs on marriage and sexuality.

Päivi Räsänen, former Finnish Minister of the Interior, is facing three criminal charges for sharing her beliefs in a pamphlet on marriage in 2004, comments she made during a radio show discussion in 2019, and a tweet with a picture of a bible passage.

Bishop Juhana Pohjola is facing one charge over his involvement in the marriage pamphlet, which he refused to remove from his church’s website. 

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Both of them share the charge of “ethnic agitation”, which falls under the section of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in the Finnish criminal code.

They have both pleaded not guilty. 

Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, which is representing the pair, told GB News that although a guilty verdict would not set an immediate legal precedent across Europe, “it will set a new European low bar for free speech standards.”

He said that people in Finland had found the case “very shocking” but warned that “it really could happen anywhere else” because of hate speech laws across Europe. 

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“These laws are nebulous, they’re incredibly vague and subjective, and as a result of that they can be enforced arbitrarily which means at any given moment, if you have the right police, the right prosecutor and a quarter of a century of speech to comb through to find something, then you can make a case out of pretty much anything and that applies across the entire continent,” he said. 

Asked about hate speech laws in the UK, Coleman said things looked to be getting worse, not better. 

“Unfortunately things are trending in a more negative direction in the UK. Everything seems to be moving more and more in terms of more censorship,” he said.

“Rather than the appetite being towards defending and protecting and upholding freedom of expression, the message that we receive from those in power is that we’re going to have a better society if we can just censor more speech.”

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Christian protesters were outside the Finnish court on Monday in support of Räsänen and Pohjola. 

“We hold the same beliefs as Päivi Räsänen but are not prosecuted today,” they told Christian Network Europe.

“The least we can do is support her by this demonstration and show the world that many people will not abandon the Biblical truths, no matter the consequences.”

Ahead of the trial, Räsänen told ADF that she was more fearful of censorship than prison.

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“Now it is time to speak. Because the more we are silent, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion grows. If I’m convicted, I think that the worst consequence would not be the fine against me, or even the prison sentence, it would be the censorship,” she said. 

Coleman said he was trusting in the court to uphold free speech. 

“In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. This is the foundation of every free and democratic society,” he said.

“Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies.

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“These sorts of cases create a culture of fear and censorship and are becoming all too common throughout Europe.

“We hope and trust the Helsinki District Court will uphold the fundamental right to freedom of speech and acquit Päivi Räsänen of these outrageous charges.” 

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