Advent 2020: Brighter Future

written on 18 December 2020 by Indy Hollway & Erin Iwata

Erin: Christmas to me is about heritage. It was about my grandmother’s hands making dough with me, foods passed down from generations and reserved only for this season, and normal rhythms being suspended to be with family. It was about ancient hymns and carols, but it was also about discovering other traditions from other cultures and sharing ours through the modality of food, decorations, and song. Our table often included people far from home who would share their traditions with us. One year we had a Columbian Christmas. Other years Sierra Leonean dishes would be at the table, Korean delicacies represented, or Indian curries. My brothers and sisters' gift to one another was a feast made together with a global food theme. One year was Chinese Christmas, French Christmas, German Christmas, Mexican Christmas.

Indy: For me, Christmas is all about presents. Hear me out! When I was a kid growing up in a poor neighbourhood, Christmas was a magical time where I would receive things that were wholly my own (as in they had not previously been owned by my sister). It was also a time where I could show my family how much I loved them by giving them gifts of my own. These gifts were sort of typical child gifts, you know, pinecones painted in glitter, or paper snowflakes. I remember one year in particular where we made a jewellery holder at school by imprinting bits of leaves and twigs we had found onto a soft piece of clay and painting it. Mine was a garish purple, and my excitement to gift this was matched only with the (possibly dramatised) excitement of my mum receiving it. Now that I am a grown up, I give much better gifts, although still often homemade. For me, it is a way of saying ‘I’ve been listening to you’ when I give someone something they truly wanted.

Erin: I look forward to my gift from you this year!

Indy: Haha as you should!

Erin: Growing up in the Northern hemisphere, Christmas was also about fighting back the dark. One of my favorite traditions was the candlelight service. This was a gathering after dark, where different families shared their stories between singing Christmas carols, prayer, reading the story of Jesus’s birth, and lighting five advent candles. The service ends with every person lighting a handheld candle and standing in awe of the communal light flicking away the darkness. The analogy was so strong: Jesus did not leave us alone in a dark world- Jesus is the light, and now we are to carry on that light and love together. I could really do with a candlelight service… This year feels especially dark.

Indy: It does feel dark, and cold, and lonely. The new COVID-19 measures really hit me hard, as I’m sure they did for you too. I love big parties and always try to cram as many people in as possible, so this whole Corona season has been really odd for me, only meeting in groups of two or three. I support the policies of course, safety first, but that doesn’t make it any less painful.

Erin: It is painful for sure. I am quarantined 8,000 km from my family. My first inclination is to fold and just feel super sorry for myself - to pine after the way things were and get angry at the virus, the media, the restriction, the establishment, the way things are. But I cannot go back; this is where we are now. So what are we going to do about it?

Indy: There’s not much we can do, but I would say we have to hold on to hope. It’s okay to miss our families and grieve the Christmas that could have been. Those feelings of anger and bitterness are valid, but we can’t let ourselves get caught up in them. We have to look forward with hope. This is where we are now, and we must trust that even though we might not understand it, God knows what's best for us, and is in our grief.

Erin: God is good. We cannot expect the way life was to return. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but that is in an unknown future. What we can do is move our actions now towards creativity, joy, humanity, and cultivating the life we hope for. This is what I hope we are doing at Our Church Too: taking the past into consideration, acknowledging real feelings, and moving forward with love, creativity, and humanity. We don’t want to trash the church, or cling to a past version of the church that can’t survive today: we want to call the church into a brighter future.

Indy: Yes. If this weird Corona Christmas has taught us anything it’s that everybody has a story to tell, not just Christians. Swap the word “church” with “community” or the name of a city or even the word Christmas, none of these things should be controlled by one group of people, causing the exclusion of others. There is no one right way of living our lives and experiencing our stories: God didn’t create us that way. As our Advent series has shown, Christmas is as beautifully unique as each of us, and the church/ community/ city should reflect this too. We hope and believe that people chasing after Jesus can be that beautiful community.

We’ll leave you with a Christmas blessing:
May you look with honesty, joy and sorrow, at the past.
May you feel deeply all the emotions that brought you to this moment.
May you lift your eyes up to the light of the new year with hope and potential.
Maybe you find the strength and community to carry this all in balance.
May your Christmas be filled with great Love.

Merry Christmas,
Erin and Indy