Thinking Anew: Here we are, a week before Christmas
How bleak lockdown has been for those who are not safe at home
‘Unable to sing together – who would have believed it? But if we are reading these words we are here, nonetheless.’ Photograph: iStock
And so we are here, a week before Christmas. Unable to sing together – who would have believed it? But if we are reading these words we are here, nonetheless.
After a strange and serious year, full of loss and loneliness and separation and waiting and allowing time to pass, we are here.
I know only a handful of Hebrew words (mostly through place-names in Scripture) but I have been aware of a Hebrew word which can have great resonance for us at this time: Hineni. Hineni means Here I am.
This is what Abraham said to God when God asked him to demonstrate his faith: “Hineni. Here I am, your will be done”. It was the response from Moses when God called out to him from the burning bush: “Hineni. Here I am, at your disposal”.
It was what Samuel spoke out to God in the Temple once he realised that it was not Eli calling him: “Hineni. Here I am, fully present to you”.
And in our gospel reading tomorrow, it is what Mary replied to the angel Gabriel who was sharing with her God’s saving plan, asking her consent to carry God’s child: “Hineni. May your will be done in me”. A strange year it must have been for Mary too . . .
Hineni has a sense of devoted alertness to it, and it suggests a healthy taking-oneself-seriously because of the God who has, miraculously, taken an interest in us.
At Christmas we humbly inherit the Jewish revelation of the personal God making himself known to us in relationship.
“Here I am” is different, less passive, to saying “I am here”, although it may seem almost the same thing. I imagine a baby in the womb whispering “I am here”, and then that baby being born and the drama and danger of taking their first actual breath: ‘HERE I AM!’
This corona-tide season has revealed to us things that we knew already that it is almost unbearable to be reminded of.
Over 200 years ago, Samuel Johnson wrote: “To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends”.
How bleak lockdown has been for those who are not safe at home, who do not have affection at home! But we knew this already. How terrible for those who don’t have enough space at home, enough warmth, enough light, enough food . . . But this is nothing new.
The unfairness of life deepens. We most certainly are not all in the same boat, although we continue to share the same storm. Some of us are seeing out the storm in luxury yachts, others in stout fishing-boats. Some are trapped in slave ships and others on make-shift rafts. If our vessels were not water-tight before the storm we may not survive at all. How, oh how, do we bear these structural injustices?
As human beings, one of our deepest instincts is to gather together, in joy and in sorrow, to celebrate or mourn, and this has been taken away from us: weddings cancelled, funerals stripped back, generations unable to welcome the newborn. The gift that is given at Christmas is that God himself chose to gather with us in our messy world, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, death itself having no more dominion. We are no longer alone.
At Christmas, the hopes and fears of all the years are gathered up.
We look back, we pause, we give and receive the presence of each other in whatever ways we can at this time.
We remember those who are no longer with us.
In the words of Maggie Ross, “We gather what needs attention and let go of it in the love of God”. My prayer is that we are given what we need to make peace with where we find ourselves, this Christmas time.
We are here, and here we are. In the words of Leonard Cohen: “Hineni, hineni! I’m ready, my Lord”.