MINISTERS' LETTERS

LETTER FROM REV ROBERT BARTHRAM
 
Dear Friends
For a January newsletter a natural topic is, New Year resolutions and I can easily think of an obvious one for myself. In late November I received an email reminding me that I should have sent something in by the previous day, which was the final deadline but I had completely forgotten about it. Previously I had agreed to go on a rota to write a short piece for a local newspaper; the email was from the frustrated editor. It was a Saturday evening not the best time so I had to abandon final preparations for Sunday morning and get something sent off by his new final deadline with profuse apologies. You can guess what my New Year’s resolution will be and only time will tell if I manage to keep it.
The article was written and sent off to meet the new deadline, hoping my rushed effort was worthy of print. A few weeks later I was in the foyer at St Andrew’s when a man appeared at the door wanting to speak to the writer of the article. My initial reaction was apprehension. Was he here to lambast or to commend?  Like Marmite I expected the response to be love or hate. It turned out that as a Palestinian Christian with a sister currently living in Bethlehem he loved the article and wanted to send it on to his MP!
Being an article in the month of December it seemed natural to write about Bethlehem, not some idealised imagery place but the real town of Jesus’ birth and today. I had written how some years ago; I had a month staying on the edge of Bethlehem.  How it was, ‘A town which was a prison to those who lived there. A town over which Israeli settlements loomed menacingly despite being in contravention of United Nations Resolutions. A place where there was real poverty and deprivation. A place which knows the reality of military occupation.’ I added how since then, those illegal settlements have increased in number and size and a massive concrete wall now surrounds the town separating farmers from their fields. In the first century and today occupation and oppression is suffered by the people of Bethlehem. At Christmas I cannot ignore the facts on the ground, the tragedy that is present day Palestine. Knowing also of the part my country, has played in this injustice, being British also doesn’t help.
Bethlehem is though just one of many injustices in this world and others will know something of these. It was to this world that Jesus came as John’s Gospel puts it, ‘The light shines in the darkness.’ A theme of the January season of Epiphany is light in the darkness and some words I have used previously say how, ‘those who live in darkness may see a great light, the true light.’ What that piece also says is how, ‘the light continues to shine, even into the darkness of sin and evil, even into the shadows of despair and fear, even into the gloom of failure and hopelessness. The light continues to shine because no darkness can overwhelm it. Nothing can extinguish its eternal energy.’ As John’s Gospel says and we heard every Sunday in Advent, ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’ (1:5).
Whatever our New Year resolutions are, there will be darkness in 2022 but however dark things may seem the light continues to shine. However dark things will be, we know that God will be with us. As we move into a New Year, the darkness may be personal or affecting many but it cannot overcome the light of Christ.
In His Name,
Robert