by Casey O’Brien Machado
Each year, Sydney Congress Hall Corps leads a Carol Service at the Martin Place Christmas Tree in the nights leading up to Christmas. These services are loud, joyful and full of life. However, two years ago – just days before our first carol service for the year was scheduled – a man held eighteen people hostage in the Lindt Café at Martin Place, killing two and traumatising many. The mood in Sydney, and especially in Martin Place, changed overnight as the city grieved not only for those lost, but for a sense of security and safety which it felt had been lost.
Those of us who assist with organising our carol services were presented with a dilemma: how do we effectively present a message of hope in a world that is so deeply hurting and broken? How do we look people in the eye in the midst of their very real suffering, and expect them to receive our message that there is a God who came to bring joy to the world? I think this is a question that many of us ask, in varying ways, on a daily basis.
There is no denying that there is much wrong with this world. In fact, at times, the “wrong” seems to envelop and outweigh those things that are right with this world. However, our desire to skip over the bad things in life is often evident. When we tell a story about someone to whom something bad happened, we often want to end it with “but they’re OK now”, without properly paying due to what occurred. When someone tells us that they’re going through a hard time, we often desire to fix their situation with an “it will be OK” or by stepping in for them. We at Sydney Congress Hall could have gone ahead as usual – singing joyfully and laughing loudly – yet to do so would have done a disservice to those who were grieving. Instead, we went ahead, placing centre-stage a physical, constant acknowledgement of the pain and the hurt. Yes, there is a place for hopefulness and positivity, but there is also a place for hurt, for grieving and for really feeling what life is throwing at us.
As Ebony Johanna writes, “Hope goes hand in hand with despair. I despair and agonize over the current situation as I hope for a redeemed, victorious future”. Cornel West echoed this sentiment, when he wrote, “Those of us who truly hope, make despair a constant companion who we outwrestle every day owing to our commitment to justice, love and hope. It is impossible to look honestly at our catastrophic conditions and not have some despair – it is a healthy sign of how deeply we care”.
Our faith does not call us to have a blind “everything will be OK in the end” attitude. In fact, it is this very attitude that has, at times, caused the world to see Christianity as ignorant or irrelevant in times in suffering. Instead, our faith calls us to look at the world around us – to really look – and to feel with those around us. Romans 12:5 tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn”. As long as we live in a world which has abuse, terrorism, discrimination, violence, war, disease and many other things, we are surrounded by people who will hurt. As long as we live in this world, we ourselves will hurt – yet we find our hope in the midst of the hurt. Rather than skipping over the bad, we usher in God’s Kingdom through our everyday actions which display our solid hope in a future that we know WILL be revealed – a future where the good outweighs the bad and where our present sufferings are nothing but a distant memory.
This Christmas, as we look a hurting world in the eye, let us remain hopeful. Let us grieve with those who grieve, and hurt with those who hurt, while declaring with confidence our hope that says that Christ came so that this world will become what it was intended to be. Let us say with gladness that our God came to this earth in order to restore it. Martin Place heard the following words in 2014, as we expressed our solidarity with those in pain and our hope for the future:
“O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel”
*This article was initially published in Pipeline Magazine.