December 9, 2020

 

Dear Mennonite Church Saskatchewan;

In his book, The Holy Longing, Ronald Rolheiser tells the story of a “four-year-old child who awoke one night frightened, convinced that in the darkness around her were all kinds of spooks and monsters. Alone, she ran to her parent’s bedroom. Her mother calmed her down and, taking her by the hand, led her back to her own room, where she put on the light and reassured the child with these words: ‘You needn’t be afraid, you are not alone here. God in the room with you.’ The child replied: ‘I know that God is here, but I need someone in this room who has some skin’”.[1]

In this Season of Advent, as we wait for God-in-Jesus to enter the world, the Word made flesh, this yearning for the presence of “someone who has some skin,” is more poignant than usual.

As we prepare to embrace the Divine in fully human form, over the last 9 months, we have been asked to sacrifice much of what it means to be fully human. Out of concern for our communities, and in particular, our vulnerable neighbours and siblings, we have exchanged masks for hugs, take-out for table fellowship, and lots of Zoom meetings instead of gathering in each other’s presence. It has been a long stretch, and I confess, I’m not a huge fan of masks! But even more than that, I don’t like not giving hugs to friends and family members. I miss visiting, socializing, and gathering with people I care about (now, I am an extravert, so this may just be me). I lament we cannot be together. Forced isolation is not conducive to living well. Even before COVID-19, isolation and loneliness was already leading to significant mental health and well-being concerns. In recent years, the British Government established the Minister for Loneliness to address this growing crisis. If anything, this time of physical separateness has reminded us how much we need the presence of others, and especially the presence of God with skin on, in our lives.

It is from this place of yearning for each other and God’s presence that we hear the words of Isaiah once again, saying: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term…In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Advent has taken on a new meaning this year. Christmas will be different too. And yes, we will have to keep wearing masks and maintaining safe distances a while longer, but we take hope in knowing, and trusting, that in the long nights of this holy season, the light of the world, the peace and presence of Jesus Christ, will come near.

 

Merry Christmas,

Ryan Siemens


[1] Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality (New York: Doubleday, 1999) 76-77