When the COVID pandemic first hit us in March last year, some of us here at Holy Name took inspiration and hope from the words of the poet Seamus Heaney:

‘If we can winter this out, we can summer anywhere’.

Just when we thought the ‘summer’ had arrived, thanks to the invention of successful vaccines, we were gradually returning to a ‘normal’ way of life, But then along came Omicron which may see us back again in lockdown next week. So like the weather, we are in a somewhat gloomy and even fearful time for many, not least for those in the hospitality business as well as for our own personal and family lives.

Against this current background it is refreshing to hear once more the opening lines of our First Reading, offered by Isaiah to fellow Israelites then living in a time of threatened gloom, fear and distress. He foresees better days ahead with a reversal of fortune for his people, when there will be no gloom where once there was anguish. So he confidently predicts that

The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light.

On those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.

As then, so now for us – we too are a ‘people walking in darkness’ either in the gloom of Omicron or, perhaps, in fear or distress over something going on in our personal lives.  When worry or fear strike, as with Covid, we become – like Isaiah’s people – exiled or alienated from our ‘normal’ selves, our normal way of life, our being family and friends.

So what can we do? Surely, the birth of Jesus calls us to light a candle rather than curse the darkness, to be people of light and look forward with hope? We may think of him today as a baby in a manger but the adult Jesus taught us that whatever life throws at us, we are not alone, that whatever awaits us in the future, he is ‘Emmanuel’ = God with us, Light in our darkness.

So this Christmas we figuratively can light a candle by giving thanks for those close to us who bring light, hope and cheer into our lives, not least for when we are troubled, fearful or in distress. We might also give thanks for those who bring light into the lives of the sick, the lonely and the poor. And with God’s help we ourselves might rise to the challenge of our times of gloom and despair of being people of light and good cheer for others.

Our Book Club choice for January is ‘In the Midst of Winter’ by Isabel Allende. We began the pandemic with the words of Heaney. Allende’s novel opens with this quotation from Albert Camus:

In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer.

May the Prince of Peace help us to find that invincible summer within each of us.

Michael Campion
Holy Name, Jesmond
Christmas 2021

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