For eight families in Glasgow the first weekend of advent - a time which might have brought with it so much excitement, expectation and hope - has turned, one can only imagine, into a living nightmare. For many others life has been changed and altered in ways that we simply cannot envisage. My prayers, and the prayers of so many around the world, are with those families.
November 2013 was a month like no other that I can remember in my ministry in the local church as I attended four funerals of people connected with Southside - an unusual occurrence in a church with a relatively young congregation. There was also the shocking devastation in the Philippines, the horror stories of human trafficking, and almost daily reminders of the ongoing pain and daily devastation in Iraq to name but three 'wider world' situations. In fact it would seem that be it at a personal, community, or global level that the stark reality of death, hurt and suffering have rarely been so obvious.
And it's from within this context of pain and hurt that we enter into this season of advent: a time of expectation and looking forward to the yearly remembrance and celebration of Jesus' birth. But not only a remembrance of His birth and first coming, but a reminder of the fact that the story doesn't end there. Because as we look to the coming of a baby in a Bethlehem stable, we also look for a Lord who will return at the end of the age to bring the Kingdom fully; a Kingdom seen now fleetingly yet not fully realised as humanity, in fact all of creation, struggles on in a world subjected to suffering until the day when God renews all things.
I finished my talk this morning with a reminder from a Christmas talk I heard as a child in which the speaker encouraged us not to say "Happy Christmas" until the 25th but rather, until then, to greet one another with the word "Maranatha": a word found in 1 Corinthians 16 which is commonly translated as "Come, Lord" and that is thought to have perhaps been one of the creedal statements of the early church. And as I reflected on a childhood memory, looking ahead to the celebration of Jesus' first coming, yet at the same time aware of so much pain for so many, what cry could be more apt as we look for the One who promises to bring an end to all pain, sorrow and mourning as He ushers in God's Kingdom in all its fullness?
Maranatha: Come, Lord.